Spit for Science Research Roundup #2

Center for Clinical and Translational Research (CCTR)

Photo courtesy of the Center for Clinical and Translational Research (CCTR)


Spit for Science is a VCU-wide research project that aims to understand how genes and the environment come together to influence substance use and emotional health. The project works with a large number of undergraduate researchers each semester. Assistants help with recruitment and data collection, meet different faculty involved in the project and work in teams to develop research questions and analyze Spit for Science data.  

Below are brief blog posts from Yusrah Hasan, a current undergraduate researcher covering recent events and research relating to substance use and emotional health.

For more information about the project, and to learn how to apply for the Spring 2017 team, please visit spit4science.vcu.edu.


Correlation Between Risky Behavior and Brain Activity in Adolescents

In a recent study conducted at Darmouth, researchers discovered that risk-taking behavior in adolescents (in this case rats were used) was linked to low activity in Prefrontal Cortex but high activity in the nucleus accumbens.

The lead researcher, a graduate student at Dartmouth, used Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs (DREADDs) to simulate the imbalance in the teenage brain and subsequently measured the ability of rats to learn. Ultimately they found that rats treated with the DREADDs took twice as long to learn a behavior that would give them food.

What made this study different from previous research that found this correlation is that past studies looked at the ability to stop a response once it had been started, but this study tested proactive inhibition, which was defined in the article as “the ability to withhold an inappropriate response in the first place”. I thought that this article was very in line with what we learned in recitation about GABRA2’s association with risky behavior in adolescents which can translate into substance abuse or other dangerous behaviors in the adulthood.


Innovative Solution to Combat Alcohol Abuse Among Soldiers

This study conducted at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in western Washington tested out the effectiveness of telephone based intervention for soldiers who met the criteria for alcohol abuse disorders. The article highlights how prevalent binge-drinking can be in the military (In 2008, 47% of active duty members reported being binge drinkers), and how drinking can be tied to military culture.

One of the major problems, however, is that many military members do not seek help for their substance abuse problem because their commanding officer is notified, and it goes on their medical and military record. This study circumvented the problem by conducting anonymous telephone based counseling over the course of six months, using the technique of “motivational interviewing” to help spur a behavior change. Those who were randomized into the control group were given educational materials about substance abuse instead of receiving counseling.

Results showed that among 242 participants, those who underwent the intervention significantly reduced their drinking, had lower rates of alcohol dependence and were more likely to seek treatment afterwards. Their rates of alcohol dependence decreased heavily from 83% to 22%. Alcohol dependence in the control group also decreased significantly from 83 to 35%.

In all, researchers concluded that this telephone-based method is effective because it is confidential, convenient because the participants could set up calls at their convenience. They also mentioned how it would be a cost effective way to potentially reach out to soldiers across the globe.