University lands £1.2 million grant for pioneering addiction
Press release issued: 16 November 2004
A £1.2 million grant has been made by the Medical Research Council (MRC) to Bristol University allowing the Psychopharmacology Unit to carry on with its ground-breaking research work.
Professor David Nutt working at the recently opened Dorothy Hodgkin Building on Whitson Street has been looking at links between drug addiction and alcoholism.
The aim of the new study is to discover which chemicals in the brain are responsible for addiction and, once identified, how to stop people from having these cravings.
It is estimated that drug addiction costs the country between £15 and £24 billion a year in terms of medical treatment and the administration of the criminal justice system.
Professor Nutt argues that providing heroin addicts with a methadone prescription as a substitute fails to address the underlying problem of addiction.
He has already conducted research on alcoholism using brain scans and believes that he has found correlations with drug dependency.
Professor Nutt now hopes to scan up to 40 individuals a year during the five-year study with the help of the Bristol specialist drugs and alcohol services.
The research will also mean that there will be two more doctors working at the Bristol Royal Infirmary to help improve psychiatric patient care locally.
Professor Nutt also hopes this research work will strengthen his argument for Bristol to have its own imaging centre - at present patients have to travel to the Hammersmith Hospital in London.
The MRC-funded Clinical Sciences Centre at Hammersmith will be providing the scanning for the research project in collaboration with Bristol.
The brain can be viewed by two separate scanning techniques and, when the images are overlaid, the researchers can tell which chemicals are at work.
Professor Nutt said: "We are particularly interested in the part of the brain involved with motivation and reward.
"We think one of the reasons people get addicted to drugs like heroin is that dopamine is released in the brain which is linked to pleasure.
"It may be that some people have a deficiency in the brain and that's why they feel they need to stimulate this through drink or drugs.
"It may be that we can use this research to develop something which will block the effects of heroin and help cure people of addiction.
"This is something which could have enormous effect on society and it, therefore, is very exciting for us here to be involved with so heavily.
"Drug addiction is a terrible drain on resources and if we can help tackle this head on and develop an effective treatment it would be a remarkable achievement."
David Nutt is Professor of Psychopharmacology and Head of the Department of Community-Based Medicine at the University of Bristol.
He is a member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, a member of the Committee on Safety of Medicines, adviser to the British National Formulary, editor of the Journal of Psychopharmacology, past-president of the British Association for Psychopharmacology and President-elect of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP).