EMBARGOED UNTIL 2/14/97, 2:30 p.m.
Seattle, WA -- The same medical imaging techniques that doctors use to diagnose cancer and heart disease are helping medical researchers find out what drugs and alcohol do to the brain, Brookhaven National Laboratory scientist Dr. John Gatley said today.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science here, Gatley discussed the strides Brookhaven scientists have made in understanding how drugs affect the chemistry of the brain. Their work may aid in the development of effective drug addiction treatment and prevention methods.
Their progress, Gatley said, has come through the use of the medical imaging techniques called positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT).
Among the substances studied at BNL, Gatley said, are cocaine, alcohol, marijuana and cigarette smoke. In each case, PET scans have shown that the drugs cause alterations in brain chemistry that in some cases, such as cocaine, can be irreversible. Such findings demonstrate that drug
addiction is not a purely psychological phenomenon.
Gatley gave the example of a 1996 study done at Brookhaven, which showed that smokers' brains had abnormally low levels of a certain enzyme. The enzyme, monoamine oxidase B (MAO B), breaks down the "pleasure chemical" dopamine. So, the researchers speculate, whatever agent in cigarette smoke is keeping MAO B levels low is helping keep smokers hooked, by enhancing the pleasurable feeling they get from smoking.
BNL's leading role in brain pharmacology research
comes from the mix of scientific disciplines and the unusually collegiate
attitudes in the Laboratory's Center for Imaging and Neurosciences. The
research requires scientists in a variety of fields to perform such functions
as incorporating short-lived radioactive atoms into the molecules of the
drugs, so that the scans can be made; developing methods of image analysis;
conducting the biomedical experiments that support and extend the research;
and designing, conducting and interpreting the imaging studies.
This month, BNL will become a research center of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, adding to funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health.
Brookhaven National Laboratory carries out basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences and in selected energy technologies. BNL is operated by Associated Universities, Inc., a nonprofit research management organization, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.