research in brief
FINDING THE PATHWAY THAT LEADS BACK TO DRUG RELAPSE “There’s no FDA-approved medication to combat addiction,” says Dr. John Mantsch, professor and chair of the Biomedical Sciences Department. “Despite the huge impact addiction has on society, there’s little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to enter that space. That’s why government-funded academic research is our main hope.” Mantsch received a $2.6 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health — its highest funded grant — to examine stress-induced relapse in cocaine addiction. His hope: to better understand the motivation behind drug-seeking behavior and underlying changes in brain function. “There are fundamental gaps in understanding the neurobiological processes that promote drug relapse, which we aim to address,” he says. Mantsch and his team will study how the activation of endocannabinoid receptors, molecules that become highly activated during stress, can regulate the brain’s reward system to trigger drug use. Specifically, they’ll look at how these molecules control neural circuits that lead to relapse in cocaine use, focusing on the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is critical to higher-order cognitive functions including decision-making. Though the aim of this particular study is to understand cocaine addiction and relapse, Mantsch thinks the research can be applied to other issues, like schizophrenia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “We have to define the mechanisms through which stress alters the brain’s motivation and reward system,” he says. “By doing that, we’ll be in a position to better understand the wide range of neuropsychiatric diseases in which this same system is altered.” JESSE LEE
First to explore a fiction giant's final false starts The papers of renowned science fiction writer Octavia Butler were sent to the Huntington Library in California after her death in 2006, but they were unavailable to scholars until 2013. By luck, Dr. Gerry Canavan, assistant professor of English, was one of the first researchers to access them. What he found were dozens of false starts for what was to be Butler’s third narrative in her Parables series. According to Canavan, she was frustrated by writer’s block and blood pressure medication she believed inhibited her creativity. The long-awaited novel was never completed.
marquette university discover 2015
“Butler was no utopian; in fact, she rejected utopian thinking in the strongest possible terms. She believed evolution had made humans clever but mean, creative but selfish, and short-sighted,” Canavan observes. “The unfinished Parables sequels would have been Butler’s chance to imagine that we might find some way to be better human beings out there than our bad history has ever allowed us to be here.” Canavan has published two articles on this research in the Los Angeles Review of Books. He plans to return to the Huntington this year to continue work on a book for the University of Illinois Press about the writer he calls “one of the most influential” in recent decades and “a personal favorite of mine.” SARAH PAINTER KOZIOL
Marquette University Research and Scholarship is out. Read about this year's featured researchers.