The purpose of the proposed Pathways to Independence award is to assist the candidate in developing research skills relevant to alcohol phenotypes and psychiatric genetic methods. The candidate's ultimate career goal is to function as an independent, extramurally funded researcher within an academic research institution. Specifically, the candidate aims to develop a program of research focused on the investigation of biological and psychosocial factors related to the etiology and maintenance of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorders (AUDs), frequently co-occurring clinical conditions that are highly impairing and represent major public health concerns. The K99 training phase of the award would occur under the mentorship of Drs. Kenneth Kendler and Ananda Amstadter at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics (VIPBG), one of the top research institutes in the world for psychiatric genetic research. The proposed postdoctoral training and support from the Pathways to Independence mechanism would allow the candidate to merge her existing experience in human laboratory methodologies with novel training in alcohol phenotypes, psychiatric genetic methods, and advanced data analytic techniques, allowing for the investigation of risk for co-occurring PTSD and AUDs from a multi-method perspective. The training plan includes a number of complementary approaches, such as formal coursework and didactics (e.g., seminars, workshops), individual mentorship, advanced statistical training, dissemination activities, training in the ethical conduct of researc, and experience with grantsmanship activities. The proposed K99 study, tailored with the training goals in mind, aims to capitalize on a NIAAA-funded merit award (PI: Kendler) to examine genetic and environmental factors related to PTSD symptoms, distress tolerance, and coping-oriented drinking in young adults. Specifically, the aims of the K99 study are to: (1) detect genetic variation and identify functional gene groups related to PTSD and coping-oriented drinking~ and (2) examine whether distress tolerance mediates a relationship between PTSD and coping-oriented drinking after accounting for shared genetic variation between PTSD and coping-oriented drinking. The proposed study is clinically significant, in that it would increase or understanding of genetic and environmental factors underlying PTSD-AUD co-occurrence, thereby informing the development of targeted prevention and early intervention strategies.
Approximately half of individuals seeking treatment for alcohol use disorders (AUD) meet current criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Given that individuals with co-occurring AUD-PTSD have poorer treatment outcomes, it is important to increase our understanding of the etiology and maintenance of these debilitating clinical conditions. Investigating both genetic and psychosocial factors underlying key processes in AUD-PTSD co-occurrence (e.g., drinking for self-medication reasons), has the potential to inform personalized intervention techniques for at-risk individuals.
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