The goal of Dr. Cunningham's research program is to understand the neurobiology of vulnerability to addiction and relapse on cellular and behavioral levels, and to ultimately translate this knowledge into new strategies to enhance abstinence. Working with collaborators from across several institutions, Dr. Cunningham and colleagues are designing new molecules to selectively target serotonin receptors and their interactions with other proteins and evaluating these molecules in vitro and in vivo for use as neurobiological probes and, potentially, as new therapeutic modalities for addiction and related disorders. A thorough understanding of the neural basis underlying the effects of psychoactive drugs is critical to the development of new science-based therapeutic directions for prevention and treatment of psychostimulant addiction.
The SCVD and the CAR have crafted a multidisciplinary approach to vaccine development. Uniting the work of experts in the areas of vaccine discovery, chemistry and animal models of addictive disorders, our scientists are collaborating on the development of a vaccine for the management and treatment of addiction in humans. Early studies suggest that vaccines have the promise to prevent relapse to drug use in abstinent users who voluntarily enter treatment and to complement psychological therapies to extend abstinence. More specifically, we propose to create vaccines that raise blood levels of potent anti-cocaine or anti-marijuana antibodies to block or limit the actions of the abused drug in the brain. UTMB is one of a small group of academic health centers around the world capable of developing and testing such a vaccine. In addition, CAR is one of a few addiction science enterprises in the United States that brings together the diverse spheres of chemistry, biology and behavior toward a vision of new therapeutics; it has been recognized for this unique approach by the National Institutes of Health.