Medical Showcase Events Becoming Part of Research Culture

By Ben Boulden

Researchers Matthew Steliga, M.D., left, and Ann Cheney, Ph.D., discuss the Steliga’s research Dec. 5 at the Showcase of Medical Discoveries.

William Fantegrossi, Ph.D., left, at the showcase talks with Lisa Brents, Ph.D., about her research.

Dec. 23, 2013 | Fifth in a continuing series of such events, the “Showcase of Medical Discoveries: A Focus on Substance Abuse” on Dec. 5 pulled in dozens of UAMS researchers, physicians, faculty and students despite the onset of wintry weather just an hour before its start.

“The showcases do look like they are becoming an important part of the university’s research culture,” said Larry Cornett, Ph.D., UAMS vice chancellor for research. “What we ultimately want the showcases to do is foster new collaborations. I look around the room and not everyone here is a substance-abuse researcher. If we can get them to get involved with a research project with one of these substance-abuse researchers, then we’ll know if it’s really working. So far, the feedback has been very positive.”

Starting with the first showcase event in late 2012, the UAMS College of Medicine has sponsored the informal wine-and-cheese gatherings where the college’s research scientists discuss their findings with each other, donors and interested students and faculty.

“It’s nice to see the other research,” said William Fantegrossi, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. “I also got a chance to talk to another research scientist whom I’d been trying to get in touch with.”

Fantegrossi’s own research examines drugs that are analogs of established illegal recreational drugs. Analogs are compounds that have similar chemical, biological or pharmacological properties.

“Some make the argument that it is chemically different enough from the thing we don’t want people to take that it’s not automatically illegal,” Fantegrossi said. “K2 being sold as a substitute for marijuana is a recent example.”

His research team worked with methoxetamine, which is an analog of PCP and ketamine easily obtained from online sites. They experimented with it in rodents to see if it would have behavioral effects similar to PCP.

It also is a drug that looks likely to be abused, and Fantegrossi’s research might help agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration regulate it.

A research team, led by Michael Owens, Ph.D., UAMS professor, director of the university’s Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse, has found an antibody for treating methamphetamine abuse that can keep the drug away from sites of action in the brain. This could help nullify its effects and help addicts in recovery, but more clinical trials still are necessary to see if it can.

Brooks Gentry, M.D., vice chairman for research in the UAMS Department of Anesthesiology, led a safety study that tested the antibody in people who don’t use methamphetamine. Its positive findings also were on display at the showcase. He said the next step in clinical trials will be to test the antibody in methamphetamine users.

Ann Cheney, Ph.D., an investigator at the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute, led a research team that endeavored to see how motherhood can create barriers but also help as a motivator for African-American mothers seeking drug treatment. Her research findings also were exhibited at the showcase.

“Wanting to have a good relationship with their children and a stronger identity as a mother was something that motivated them to get into treatment,” Cheney said. “Once they get into treatment they have better relationships with their children, but many of them who got into treatment continued to use.”

Mothers who are cocaine users also have fears of losing their children and of the stigma surrounding cocaine use. Those fears often keep them away from treatment programs.

Interventions and treatment need to consider the unique role that motherhood plays, as a facilitator and a barrier, in women’s help-seeking behaviors. Her research found the fear of losing their children, the desire to be a good mother, strong support systems and positive encouragement from recovered women encouraged them to pursue treatment and even entry into treatment.

Cheney along with Owens, Fantegrossi and Gentry said the showcase was a great opportunity for networking and to learn what other UAMS researchers are doing.

Posters at the showcase, using text and graphics, described the work of many different research project groups that include dozens of basic and clinical scientists as well as trainees. They were:

·         Developing Novel Nanotherapies for the Treatment of Methamphetamine Addiction. Researchers: Nisha Nanaware-Kharade, Emily Reichard, Shradda Thakkar, Guillermo Gonzalez III, Reha Celikel, Kottayil Varughese, Eric Peterson.

·         Cocaine Dependence and Childhood Maltreatment are Associated with Altered Configurations of Personality Traits. Researchers: Lisa Brents, Shanti Prakash Tripathi, Jonathan Young, Andrew James, Clinton Kilts.

·         Tolerance and Cross-Tolerance among High-Efficacy Synthetic Cannabinoids JWH-018 and JWH-073 and Low Efficacy Phytocannabinoid ∆9- THC. Researchers: William Fantegrossi, Lirit Franks, Tamara Vasiljevik, Paul Prather.

·         Discovery of Long Acting Monoclonal Antibodies for Treating Methamphetamine Abuse. Researchers: Michael Hambuchen, William Atchley, Melinda Gunnell, Sherri Woods, Eric Peterson, Brooks Gentry, Michael Owens.

·         First Human Studies of an Anti-Methamphetamine Monoclonal Antibody. Researchers: Misty Stevens, Michael Owens, Brooks Gentry.

·         Preclinical Abuse Liability of Methoxetamine, an Emerging Arylcyclohexylamine Drug of Abuse. Researchers: William Fantegrossi, David Wessinger, Brenda Gannon, Andrew Norwood, William Hyatt, Jonathan Bauer-Erickson.

·         Mediators of Response to Sertraline vs. Placebo among Recently Abstinent, Cocaine Dependent Patients. Researchers: Alison Oliveto, Jeff Thostenson, Thomas Kosten, Michael Mancino.

·         Dextroamphetamine Withdrawal Paradigm in Methamphetamine Dependent Humans. Researchers: Michael Mancino, Janette McGaugh, Jeff Thostenson, Keith Williams, Alison Oliveto.

·         Implementation of Tobacco Cessation Program in a Multidisciplinary Oncology Clinic. Researchers: Matthew Steliga, Claudia Barone, Erna Boone, Patricia Franklin, Virginia Hullihan.

·         Development of New Oral Medications for the Treatment of Methamphetamine Addiction. Researchers: Peter Crooks, Guangrong Zheng, Linda Dwoskin, Michael Bardo, David Horton, Justin Nickell, Andrew Meyer, Nichole Neugebauer, Agripina Deaciuc, Carrie Wilmouth, Kristin Alvers, Joshua Beckmann, Emily Denehy, Kiran Siripurapu.

·         Help-Seeking Behaviors of African-American Mothers Who Use Cocaine: A Qualitative Analysis. Researchers: Ann Cheney, G.M. Curran, B.M. Booth, T. Borders.