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Mechanistic Studies of Opioid Tolerance

William L. Dewey, Ph.D.

I have had a productive collaboration with Drs. Graeme Henderson and Emmon Kelley at the University of Bristol and Dr. Chris Bailey at Bath University all in the U. K. for the past eight years. We had five years of NIH funding for this project and have published a significant number of papers in the literature as a result of this work. We currently have another paper submitted for publication and will meet in April to discuss future collaborative research. The essence of the research is to study the mechanism of tolerance development to opioids. Their approach has been a combination of electrophysiology and molecular biology while our contributions to the collaboration have been a concentration on whole animal studies and neurochemical investigations. Our earlier work concentrated on the role of protein kinase C in morphine tolerance. A concentration of our more recent work has been to investigate the lethal effects of alcohol consumption in opioid addicts while relapsing after a period of abstinence. Our data are very important since it has been found in England, and to some extent in other countries, that post addicts are tolerant to the rewarding effects of opioids but not to the respiratory depressant effects. As a result, when alcohol is consumed it adds to the respiratory depression and kills the individual with much lower blood levels of opioids than seen in lethality cases where alcohol is not involved.

The Syrian Center for Tobacco Studies

Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D.
VCU Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies
VCU Department of Psychology

The Syrian Center for Tobacco Studies (SCTS) was co-founded by Drs. Thomas Eissenberg (VCU), Wasim Maziak (Florida International University) and Kenneth Ward (U of Memphis) in 2002 with the support of a grant from the U.S. NIH (R01 TW005962, K. Ward, PI). The SCTS research focus is on tobacco dependence generally with particular attention to understanding the prevalence and health effects of tobacco smoking using a waterpipe (a.k.a. hookah, shisha, narghile) using clinical laboratory, clinical trial, and epidemiological methods. Since its founding, the SCTS has been responsible for over 50 peer-reviewed publications, has received additional NIH support (e.g.,R01 DA24876,R01 DA035160, R21 TW006545, R03 TW007233), and has provided the inspiration for several NIH-funded projects here at VCU that involve collaborations in Lebanon (5R0 1CA120142, R01 DA025659) and Jordan (R03 TW008371). These VCU grants have also centered around the waterpipe tobacco smoking, and include studies comparing waterpipe and cigarette smoke toxicant content, and user toxicant exposure and effects. The experience gained from these ongoing international collaborations has been profoundly rewarding both professionally and personally.

Improving Substance Abuse Treatment in South Africa: The Service Quality Measures Initiative

J. Randy Koch
VCU Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies

The primary objective of Service Quality Measures Initiative is to develop a system for assessing the performance of the Republic of South Africa's (RSA) substance abuse treatment policies and services. The service quality measures are intended to help the RSA improve the quality of its substance abuse services by creating the means to empirically measure the results achieved in domains such as access to treatment, quality of care, and patient outcomes; and by creating an analytical and decision support platform to guide policy and program improvements. Such improvements in the efficiency, effectiveness, and equitability of substance abuse treatment in the RSA are especially important in light of the relationship that is increasingly being established between alcohol and drug use, sexual risk behaviors for HIV, and HIV incidence/prevalence. Using a stakeholder-driven process, we have developed and conducted psychometric testing of service quality measures based on both patient self-report and program administrative data. This project grew out of initial discussions with a South African citizen during her tenure as a VCU Humphrey Fellow and evolved into a collaborative effort with the South African Medical Research Council. The project is currently in its fourth year of funding by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (through PEPFAR) and the provincial government of the Western Cape, RSA.

Project CARE: An International Research Collaboration between VCU and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

Project CARE (Community Assessment of Risk and Resilience) is an ongoing research collaboration between the Department of Behavioural Medicine at UKZN and Dr. Wendy Kliewer in VCU's Psychology department. Project CARE focuses on risk and resilience in Durban youth. Youth who are either in Grade 7 or 10 and their parents complete separate home interviews focused risk factors; psychological, social, physical, and academic adjustment; and factors that may attenuate risk, such as emotion regulation, coping behaviors, and family interaction patterns. Youth also complete a comprehensive school-based assessment of neurocognitive functioning and physiological stress responses. The goal of the project is to follow families annually for 4 years and to obtain information that can improve health practices and educational policy. South African youth and families are exposed to extremely high levels of trauma that can compromise physical, emotional, and academic functioning. Project CARE aims to understand why some youth demonstrate resilience in the face of these adversities, and to use this information to inform research, clinical practice, and educational policy.

As of December, 2012, approximately 80 families have completed home interviews. Dr. Kliewer's undergraduate and graduate students are entering project data and transcribing interviews, and will begin data coding in the Spring, 2013 term. Additionally, three doctoral students from UKZN will be using Project CARE data for their dissertation work.

Rural development for socioeconomic and ecological resilience in Guatemala

Avrum Shriar, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

Each summer, students from Virginia Commonwealth University participate in intensive study abroad designed to link classroom learning to direct experience in a non-U.S. institutional and cultural context. These experiences occur in a series of courses entitled INTL 591: Topics in International Studies. This year's roster included "Guatemala: Rural Development for Socioeconomic and Ecological Resilience." led by Wilder School Associate Professor Avrum Shriar, the course gave students the chance to engage in field work that explored the challenges of rural Guatemala while earning service learning credit.

On June 3, Shriar hosted 14 students in the Western Highlands Region in conjunction with the Highland Support Project, a non-governmental organization that serves the indigenous communities of Guatemala "through transformational development projects." The organization has been active in the region since 1992.

The one-week visit was preceded by numerous readings designed to provide students with a background on the issues facing rural Guatemala, and combined daily service work in communities with excursions to Antigua, Quetzaltenango and Lake Atitlan. The curriculum also featured evening lectures with community leaders and cultural experts as well as authorities in planning, mining and indigenous rights.

Spanish/English Translation and Interpretation Certificate Graduates

The certificate program prepares advanced Spanish students for further study, national certification exams, and/or future employment in these growing fields. The certificate program combines theoretical and applied course work with applied practice in the community. Below are stories of some of the program's most recent certificate holders.

Christine Stoddard is a member of the City's "One To Watch Under 40" list. Christine just won a scholarship to study at VCU's Sister University in Guadalajara, Mexico this semester while finishing up her Spanish English Translation Interpretation (SETI) coursework.

Jason Zinn began taking Spanish in the Virginia Community College System, and entered into advanced level Spanish at VCU. He passed the SETI Exit Exam and is now living and working in Mexico.

Mary Burnette studied Spanish for only two years when she started SETI coursework. Mary passed the Exit Exam on her first try and is now teaching Spanish in Chesterfield County.

Laila Chatelain is a heritage Spanish speaker who, in effect, had to relearn many aspects of her native tongue in order to turn her colloquial speech into polished and professional language. She is now a manager at locally-based Aerotek.