February 4, 2022

National Institute on Drug Abuse grant validates neuroimmune system is worthy of investigation in Woodcock lab

Since returning to Wayne State University in May as an assistant professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Translational Neuroscience graduate program alumnus Eric Woodcock, Ph.D., has wasted no time securing funding from the National Institutes of Health to support his research on Opioid Use Disorder. 

Assistant Professor Eric Woodcock, Ph.D., is the principal investigator on the newly-funded project.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded Dr. Woodcock and his team a three-year, $746,999 grant to investigate the role of the brain’s immune system in OUD. He is the principal investigator of “Multimodal Investigation of the Neuroimmune System in Opioid Use Disorder.” His co-investigators include Mark Greenwald, Ph.D., professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and director of the department’s Substance Abuse Research Division; Otto Muzik, Ph.D., professor of Neurology and imaging physicist; and Jeff Stanley, Ph.D., professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and co-director of the Brain Imaging Research Division.

“OUD is an epidemic in this country. On average, one American dies from an opioid overdose every eight minutes. FDA-approved pharmacotherapies for OUD exhibit moderate efficacy, but most patients relapse to opioid use,” Dr, Woodcock said. “The overarching goal of this study is to investigate whether the neuroimmune system is disrupted in OUD patients early in treatment. If we find evidence for neuroimmune system disruption, future studies will investigate whether glial modulator medications (e.g., ibudilast) can ‘normalize’ neuroimmune signaling and augment therapeutic efficacy of existing pharmacotherapies. The neuroimmune system is an understudied biological system in OUD and represents an intriguing therapeutic target.”

They will also investigate cognitive, behavioral, and physiological correlates that may be altered by aberrant neuroimmune signaling and will follow OUD patients during gold-standard outpatient pharmacotherapy to investigate whether neuroimaging markers, measured early in treatment, predict treatment outcome.

To accomplish this, the researchers will recruit OUD patients early in treatment and image their brains to quantify two putative markers of the neuroimmune system. The first is a marker of the kynurenine system. Metabolic activity in the kynurenine pathway is robustly upregulated in response to neuroinflammatory conditions. The second marker is myo-inositol, an osmolyte thought to be upregulated by astrocyte activation.

The research area is not new to Dr. Woodcock, whose NIDA-funded postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University focused on imaging approaches to study the in vivo neuroimmune system and its role in substance use disorders, especially OUD.

He chose WSU State to pursue his doctoral degree because “the Translational Neuroscience Program at Wayne State is a unique Ph.D. program in which students are trained across biological levels, from cellular and molecular biology to systems neuroscience, and across the translational spectrum, from preclinical research to clinical trials, which provides an excellent foundation for a research career studying neuropsychiatric disorders,” he said. “My advice to all incoming graduate students is to identify your research interests early in your training. The sooner students focus their efforts, the more likely they will be successful and productive during their Ph.D. training.”

He returned to the department as a newly-minted faculty member after his postdoctoral training at Yale because WSU is an ideal institution at which to continue his research.

“My lab combines neuroimaging and human laboratory models to investigate brain-behavior relationships in addiction. Our overarching goal is to identify and investigate novel neurobiological targets for treatment. Wayne State has both the research infrastructure and scientific expertise needed to conduct these types of interdisciplinary studies. The MRI center and BRAIN division at Wayne State conduct cutting-edge research investigating the neurochemical and neural network dysfunction that underlie psychiatric disorders. The PET center is among the most experienced in the world using the [11C]AMT radioligand, which will be employed in this study. The Substance Abuse Research Division at Wayne State was founded by Dr. Charles Schuster in 1995 after his tenure as Director of NIDA, and has been conducting rigorous, impactful human behavioral pharmacology research in addiction for nearly three decades,” he said.

The number for this grant is R00 DA048125.


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