Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Scientists at the University of Iowa are studying brain development in adolescent children who have a genetic risk for developing alcohol use-related problems due to having a family history of alcoholism.

Researchers have long known that alcoholism and substance use disorders have a strong genetic basis, and children of alcoholic parents have a much greater likelihood of later developing a substance use disorder themselves. However, researchers don't yet understand how this genetic predisposition contributes to changes in cognitive and decision-making processes in the brain.

Daniel O'Leary, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the UI Carver College of Medicine and expert in brain imaging and substance use, is conducting one of the most comprehensive studies to date of at-risk adolescent children who have at least one parent with an alcohol use-related disorder. Using MRI to study brain structure and brain function, O'Leary and colleagues hope to identify neurocognitive processes that are different in at-risk teens compared to their peers whose parents don't have alcohol use disorders.

By using state-of-the-art brain imaging technology along with tests that measure risk taking and future-oriented thinking, the researchers hope to develop a better understanding of how genetic risk for alcoholism modifies normal brain and cognitive development. Investigators further hope this research will eventually lead to more accurate diagnoses and better treatment of alcohol and other substance use-related problems.

The study is ongoing and is recruiting adolescents age 13 to 18 who have at least one parent with an alcohol use problem. If you or someone you know is interested in participating, call 319-353-8520 or email brain-lab@uiowa.edu