FIU to examine substance use in youths as part of landmark study

Brain MRI slide of a girl. Actual patient and clinic names have been omitted.

Brain MRI slide of a girl. Actual patient and clinic names have been omitted.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded FIU $12.7 million as part of a multi-year national landmark study on substance use and adolescent brain development. The award, for the first five-year cycle of the research study, is the single largest NIH award ever received by FIU faculty.

Raul Gonzalez, associate professor of psychology, psychiatry, and immunology and faculty member at the FIU Center for Children and Families (CCF) will lead a 14-member research team from FIU’s College of Arts & Sciences and Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work that includes child mental health and social work experts, as well as psychologists and a physicist, who have extensive track records in drug abuse research and cognitive neuroscience.

“Taking responsibility for finding solutions to the problem of adolescent drug use, which robs our youth of their future and costs our country millions in lost productivity, we have assembled a dream team of researchers,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “This project will impact our community and the nation for years to come and in the process it will create and support jobs right here in South Florida.”

The researchers will also examine the presence of disruptive behavior disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder symptoms and others.

“This award will ensure that the South Florida community will be represented in this landmark national study and allow us to understand how cultural factors influence the development of drug use and addiction” said Gonzalez, who is an FIU alumnus.

In total, 13 grants were awarded to research universities throughout the United States for the study, which will follow 10,000 children, starting at the age of 9 or 10 through the period of adolescence, considered the developmental stage of highest risk for substance use and other mental health disorders. Scientists will track exposure to substances, including nicotine, alcohol and marijuana, as well as academic achievement, cognitive skills, mental health, and brain structure and function using advanced research methods. Dubbed the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, researchers will seek to address many questions related to substance use and development. The goal is to inform prevention and treatment research priorities, public health strategies, and policy decisions.

In the first five years of the study, FIU researchers will recruit hundreds of youth from Miami-Dade County and surrounding areas. Detailed substance use, psychosocial, neuropsychological and neuroimaging data will be collected to help determine factors that lead to substance use and addiction, and perhaps more importantly, uncover the factors that impact brain development during this critical time.

“With advances in neuroimaging and other investigative tools, we will be able to look in greater detail at the impact of substance use on young people,” said Nora D. Volkow, director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Adolescents have access to high potency marijuana and greater varieties of nicotine delivery devices than previous generations. We want to know how that and other trends affect the trajectory of the developing brain.”

In addition to the members of the research team, the study will initially create 13 new jobs at FIU, will support at least six graduate students and will stimulate economic development through training of students and postdoctoral fellows in neuroscience and collaboration with local partners in the area of neuroimaging. The interdisciplinary research team includes:

College of Arts & Sciences

  • Principal investigator Raul Gonzalez, associate professor of psychology, psychiatry, and immunology and researcher in the Center for Children and Families (CCF)
  • Stefany Coxe, assistant professor of psychology and researcher in CCF
  • Anthony DeCaprio, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and researchers in the International Forensic Research Institute
  • Anthony Dick, assistant professor of psychology, researcher in CCF and the Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging Center (CNIC)
  • Angela Laird, associate professor of physics and director of CNIC
  • William E. Pelham Jr., chairman of the Department of Psychology and director of the CCF
  • Matthew Sutherland, assistant professor of psychology and researcher in CNIC
  • Elisa Trucco, assistant professor of psychology and researcher in CCF

Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work

  • Mario De La Rosa, professor of social work and director of the Center for Research on U.S. Latino HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse (CRUSADA)
  • Tan Li, assistant professor of biostatistics and deputy director of the Integrated Biostatistics & Data Management Center
  • Patria Rojas, senior behavioral health scientist, CRUSADA
  • Mariana Sanchez, postdoctoral associate, CRUSADA
  • Eric Wagner, professor of social work and director of the FIU-Banyan Research Institute for Dissemination, Grants and Evaluation (FIU BRIDGE)
  • O. Dale Williams, professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics and director of the Integrated Biostatistics and Data Management Center

The FIU research project site is supported by NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse grant #1 U01 DA 041156-01.


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