R. Christopher Pierce Receives the Waletzky Memorial Award

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Dr. R. Christopher Pierce, associate professor of neuroscience in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, is the recipient of the 2008 Jacob P. Waletzky Memorial Award for Innovative Research in Drug Addiction and Alcoholism. He delivered the keynote lecture at NIDA's Frontiers in Addiction Research miniconference at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on November 14, 2008.

photo of Dr. R. Christopher Pierce

Dr. Pierce's research has explored the long-lasting cellular changes that occur in response to chronic cocaine abuse. Dr. Pierce and colleagues traced a molecular chain of events in which cocaine stimulation of dopamine receptors in the nucleus accumbens enhances the expression of specialized glutamate receptors whose proliferation promotes a return to drug-seeking by animals previously weaned from it. Identification of this pathway may facilitate the development of relapse-prevention medications.

Dr. Pierce is also studying deep brain stimulation as a possible treatment for severe cocaine abuse. Stimulating areas of the brain affected by chronic cocaine abuse may alleviate craving and reduce relapse. Deep brain stimulation is widely used to treat Parkinson's disease, and scientists are testing this surgical procedure as a therapy for severe depression.

The Waletzky award carries an honorarium of $25,000 and is presented each year to a scientist who attained a doctoral degree in the past 15 years; it is intended to encourage innovative research into the neurobiology of drug addiction. The Waletzky family established the award in 2003 in memory of Jacob P. Waletzky, who died at age 29 of cocaine-induced cardiac arrhythmia.