Some people can stop after one drink. Others can’t.

Addiction is a brain disease — a disorder where some brains are primed for substance abuse, while others are spared.

George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, will discuss the neurocircuitry of alcohol addiction at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Koob’s talk will be the first of the newly named Eric N. Shullman Distinguished Public Lecture Series. The six-year-old series was renamed in memory of Eric N. Shullman, a Roanoke resident and supporter of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s public lecture series.

Koob began his career investigating the neurobiology of emotion, particularly how the brain processes reward and stress. From there, he focused on the anatomical and neurochemical underpinnings of emotional function as they relate to alcohol and drug addiction.

His research has helped explain the physiological effects of alcohol and other types of substance abuse — specifically, why some individuals are prone to transition from use to misuse to addiction.

“Dr. Koob’s work has advanced our understanding of the physiological effects of alcohol,  of the abuse of other substances and the biological underpinnings of why some people more readily transition from use to misuse to addiction, while others do not,” said Michael J. Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology.

With more than 650 peer-reviewed scientific papers, numerous prestigious awards for his contributions to research on the neurobiology of addiction, and the most recent honor from the French government with the insignia Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor) for developing scientific collaborations between France and the United States, Koob has become one of the world’s authorities on the neurobiology of addiction.

Koob was previously a professor and committee chairman at The Scripps Research Institute in California before taking on his leadership role as director at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health.

He received his undergraduate degree in zoology from Pennsylvania State University and his doctorate in behavioral physiology from Johns Hopkins University.

Opportunities for Virginia Tech to develop synergies with national addiction research are great, Friedlander said, citing such programs as the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute's Addiction Recovery Research  Center led by Warren Bickel; decision-making neuroscience programs led by VTCRI researchers Pearl Chiu, Brooks King-Casas, Stephen LaConte, and Read Montague; and strengths in addiction research in the university’s psychology department and new School of Neuroscience.

Friedlander said with Carilion Clinic’s expertise for treating addiction and substance abuse through their psychiatry, pain management, family medicine, surgery, and emergency medicine departments, the Virginia Tech Carilion partnership is playing an increasingly important role in addressing one of the commonwealth’s and nation’s most significant contemporary health challenges.

The lecture is free and open to public. Registration is not required to attend. The program is sponsored by the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and the Translational Biology, Medicine and Health graduate program. More information may be found on the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute website.

Written by Logan Quesenbery

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