Research Grantees

Current VFHY Grantees and VYTP Small Grants Grantees are listed below:

Current VFHY Grantees

George Mason University
Project Title: Mechanisms of Adolescent Vulnerability to Neurobehavioral Effects of Nicotine
Principal Investigators: Bob Smith, Ph.D. Co PI: Craig G. McDonald, Ph.D, Department of Psychology
Collaborating Partner: GMU Molecular and Microbiology Department

The work will investigate whether key adolescent factors sensitive to nicotine - rapid preference development and persisting changes in brain connectivity – are associated with specific biological mechanisms. It will lay the groundwork for possible adolescent-specific measures which may disrupt these and prevent development of addiction, provide specific information useful in education and prevent efforts, and bring some closure to ‘the story’ of biological adolescent vulnerability to nicotine, to be incorporated into education/prevention programs.

George Mason University
Project Title: What Social and Molecular Factors Drive Nicotine Preference in Adolescent Mice?
Principal Investigator: Karl Fryxell, Ph.D., School of Systems Biology
Collaborating Partner: Virginia Commonwealth University

The relationship between stress, social isolation, and adolescent nicotine use is of great importance to nicotine prevention in Virginia. The genes and gene pathways to be investigated in this proposal play fundamental roles in this process. The combination of genetic, molecular, and behavioral experiments that we have adopted will provide fundamental insights into the factors affecting nicotine use and prevention.

The subjective response to the first cigarette is strongly correlated with outcomes in human adolescents, particularly future nicotine dependence. We have identified specific brain areas and genes that are likely to be involved in the subjective response to the first cigarette, because they show adolescent-specific responses to a single nicotine injection in adolescent mice, and because those gene expression responses are strongly correlated with nicotine consumption. We will extend these results by measuring the levels of a key protein (the D2 dopamine receptor) in the prefrontal cortex as a function of time after a single nicotine injection. This will enable us to distinguish alternative hypotheses regarding the molecular mechanisms of adolescent-specific gene expression and nicotine preference.

Virginia Commonwealth University
Project Title: Exercise and Environmental Enrichment to Prevent Nicotine Addiction in Adolescent Males and Females
Principal Investigator: Darlene H. Brunzell, Ph.D., Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
Collaborating Partner:University of Virginia

Most smokers initiate tobacco use during adolescence or young adulthood and obesity is a growing concern among teenagers. Studies show that smoking is on the rise in teen girls who report that weight control is a major motivation for their tobacco use. Rats and humans have similar neurotransmitters, hormones and brain systems that regulate addiction behavior. Our preclinical studies show that adolescent female rats are also more vulnerable than males to initiation of nicotine intake, suggesting that a biological mechanism may contribute to this dichotomy as well. Our findings demonstrate that exercise is an effective intervention for nicotine-seeking in male and female adolescent rats. As the best prognosis for tobacco cessation is to never begin smoking, the proposed studies will expand on these data to assess the benefits of exercise to prevent initiation of nicotine use in adolescent males and females. These studies will further assess if environmental enrichment, alone, or in combination with exercise, will prevent acquisition of nicotine intake using this animal model of intravenous nicotine self-administration. The overarching hypothesis is that both exercise and environmental enrichment will decrease adolescent-onset nicotine self-administration. These studies will identify which of these non-pharmacological strategies, alone or in combination, are most effective in male and female adolescents.

Virginia Commonwealth University
Project Title: Reducing Teen Tobacco Use Via Text Messaging: Motivational Interviewing Integrated with Social Network Counseling
Principal Investigator: Michael Mason, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, Commonwealth Institute for Child and Family Studies
Collaborating Partner: Richmond Behavioral Health Authority

The purpose of this study is to test an innovative intervention that seeks to interrupt tobacco use of a sample of Virginia youth using evidence-based messaging delivered via mobile phone text messages. A secondary goal of the study is to characterize the geographic nature (density/distance) of tobacco selling outlets in relation to participating adolescents’ routine locations and examine the effects on tobacco use over time. The use of Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) methodology will measure tobacco use events at these locations, while also simultaneously assessing psychological states (affect and cognition) and other behaviors in real-time, providing a mechanism for collecting repeated measurement in natural contexts throughout the day. The combination of place-based social network and EMA data will generate a fine-grained longitudinal data set, where behavioral events can be situated in specific locations, and participant evaluations and feelings can also be associated with these events.

Virginia Commonwealth University
Project Title: Can Parents Help Prevent Youth Tobacco Use? An Evaluation of Two Evidence-based Parenting Programs
Principal Investigator: Rosalie Corona, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, VCU Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development
Collaborating Partner: Richmond City Public Schools

The overall goal of the proposed project is to determine the combined effectiveness of two evidence-based parent-focused programs (Family Check Up and Staying Connected with Your Teen) for decreasing adolescents’ tobacco use, intentions to use tobacco, and other risk behaviors by increasing parental monitoring, improving parent-adolescent communication about tobacco use and the parent-child relationship in a sample of youth referred for truancy. The current project has several strengths including a focus on an understudied group of high-risk youth (i.e., youth who are truant) and has potential to contribute to the national and local discourse on youth tobacco prevention. Findings from this study could provide the local community with a new strategy for preventing tobacco use (i.e., self-directed programs) and also ways of engaging families in youth tobacco prevention efforts (i.e., using motivational interviewing techniques to increase families’ readiness for change).

Virginia Commonwealth University
Project Title: The Virginia Youth Tobacco Projects Core
Principal Investigator:J. Randy Koch, Ph.D., Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies
Collaborating Partners: Virginia Youth Tobacco Projects Research Coalition

The proposed VYTP Core includes those activities that we have conducted in the past with great success. These are the annual VYTP Research Coalition meetings, the Small Grants Program, a report summarizing and integrating VFHY-sponsored research and the triennial Research to Practice Conference. In addition, the Core includes several activities not budgeted separately such as updating and maintaining the VYTP web site, the preparation of annual reports documenting the progress of the VYTP, the dissemination of information on funding opportunities, and facilitating the networking of VYTP researchers.

VYTP Small Grants Program Grantees

Project Title: Protective Factors against Smoking Initiation for Sexual Minority and Multiple Minority Adolescents
Principal Investigator:
Christine Kaestle, Ph.D., Department of Human Development, Virginia Tech

Project Title: African American Parent-Adolescent Communication About Tobacco Use
Principal Investigator: Rosalie Corona, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University

Project Title: The Consequences of Self-Control Failure in Adolescent Smokers
Principal Investigator: Warren Bickel, Ph.D., Addiction Recovery Research Center, Virginia Tech

Project Title: Investigation of Global DNA Methylation following Nicotine Exposure
Principal Investigator: Michael Scott, Ph.D., Department of Pharmacoloty, University of Virginia

Project Title: Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Menthol Cigarette Addiction
Principal Investigator: Nadine Kabbani, Ph.D., Department of Molecular Neuroscience, George Mason University