Dr. Kate Meyer Receives Avenir Award from NIDA

Dr. Kate Meyer Receives Avenir Award from NIDA

The US is in the midst of a drug epidemic—opioid overdoses are on the rise; heroin has become a cheaper alternative to pain pills, and it’s easier to get high than it is to get help. Dr. Kate Meyer, in the Department of Biochemistry, recently received an Avenir Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), where she will be the first to study how drug-induced changes in gene expression lead to long-term chemical changes in the brain’s reward system—her research is timely and could be far-reaching.

Dr. Meyer will spend the next five years, specifically looking at m6A (methylation of adenosine residues,) an RNA modification that is abundant in the brain and which plays an important role in nervous system function. Her lab will investigate how exposure to cocaine impacts the levels of m6A in the rodent brain. By identifying the RNAs whose m6A levels change, Meyer hopes to uncover new molecular pathways that control gene expression during addiction. Her lab will then determine how these gene expression changes alter the connections between neurons. This knowledge could uncover previously unknown mechanisms that control the brain’s signaling during addiction, potentially opening the door for new therapeutic strategies.  

We still don’t know all of the factors that control drug addiction at the molecular level. But Dr. Meyer’s research just might change the way we look at addiction—and how we look to treat it. This opioid epidemic is the largest public health problem in the US; it’s taking a toll on teen-agers and young adults; the cost is becoming unaffordable—right now exceeding $500 billion—and the scourge has a presence in everyone’s community. So her novel research, could be in the public’s best interest.