Cocaine dependence remains a significant health problem for which effective pharmacotherapy treatments are lacking. In this application for a K23 Mentored Patient Oriented Research Career Development Award, Dr. Elias Dakwar proposes a comprehensive plan towards becoming an independent researcher of innovative treatments for drug dependence. Specifically, this proposal will focus on treating cocaine dependence with sub-anesthetic infusions of ketamine, a high-affinity non-competitive N- methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) antagonist, which has recently emerged as a novel antidepressant strategy. Purported mechanisms of its antidepressant action - modulation of the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC), increased neural plasticity in the prefrontal regions of the brain - suggest that ketamine may have a role in the treatment of cocaine dependence as well. Prefrontal dysfunction is believed to be highly associated with the development and maintenance of drug dependence, and ACC dysfunction in particular has been implicated in arousal, impulsivity, and stress sensitivity, as well as in cue reactivity and increased risk of relapse in cocaine users. Disruptions in the glutamate system are hypothesized to underlie these clinically significant impairments in prefrontal functioning, and NMDAR antagonism, via modulation of glutamate, has been proposed as a way to address these deficits. However, the only specific antagonist studied, memantine, failed to show an effect in humans. As recent studies demonstrate, the robust, unique and sustained activity of sub-anesthetic dose ketamine on human brain systems suggest that it may be able to restore normal brain function in a way not observed with memantine, and potentially produce the effects on cocaine dependence that preclinical and animal studies with NMDAR antagonists have been predicting. This trial therefore aims to investigate in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial the effect of ketamine on risk of relapse (time to first cocaine use) in newly abstinent cocaine dependent individuals, as well as to investigate mechanisms of action in regards to stress sensitivity, mindfulness, and impulsivity. Even in the absence of positive findings, the proposed project stands to advance the field by elucidating the role of NMDAR blockade as a treatment strategy for drug dependence. Also, it can contribute more generally to understanding how targeting certain vulnerabilities, such as stress sensitivity and mindfulness impairment, might impact addiction. While pursuing this line of research with the expertise of his mentor (Dr. Frances R. Levin) and preceptors (Drs. Carl Hart and Sanjay Mathew), Dr. Dakwar will concurrently engage in an individualized training program so as to develop in the following important areas: 1) human laboratory and clinical trial study design, methodology, and logistics, 2) advanced biostatistics, 3) responsible conduct of research, 4) manuscript preparation, 5) grant-writing and grant-management skills, and 6) behavioral and translational neurobiology. Overall, this award will ensure Dr. Dakwar's successful transition to an independent investigator of innovative treatments for drug dependence.

Public Health Relevance

Cocaine dependence remains a significant public health issue for which effective medications are lacking. The overall goal of this K23 proposal is to launch the career of Elias Dakwar, MD as a researcher of innovative treatments for drug dependence. In the proposed project, he will investigate the effect of a single dose of sub- anesthetic ketamine on risk of relapse among cocaine dependent individuals. Alongside a training plan, this project will allow him to develop into a researcher targeting vulnerabilities that may perpetuate problematic cocaine use, such as stress sensitivity, disruptions in the glutamate system, and impaired self-regulation.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23)
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Study Section
Human Development Research Subcommittee (NIDA)
Program Officer
Walton, Kevin
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New York State Psychiatric Institute
New York
United States
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Dakwar, E; Nunes, E V; Hart, C L et al. (2018) A sub-set of psychoactive effects may be critical to the behavioral impact of ketamine on cocaine use disorder: Results from a randomized, controlled laboratory study. Neuropharmacology 142:270-276
Dakwar, E; Hart, C L; Levin, F R et al. (2017) Cocaine self-administration disrupted by the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist ketamine: a randomized, crossover trial. Mol Psychiatry 22:76-81
Dakwar, Elias; Kleber, Herbert D (2015) Naltrexone-facilitated buprenorphine discontinuation: a feasibility trial. J Subst Abuse Treat 53:60-3
Dakwar, Elias; Levin, Frances R; Olfson, Mark et al. (2014) First treatment contact for ADHD: predictors of and gender differences in treatment seeking. Psychiatr Serv 65:1465-73
Dakwar, Elias; Levin, Frances; Foltin, Richard W et al. (2014) The effects of subanesthetic ketamine infusions on motivation to quit and cue-induced craving in cocaine-dependent research volunteers. Biol Psychiatry 76:40-6
Dakwar, E; Anerella, C; Hart, C L et al. (2014) Therapeutic infusions of ketamine: do the psychoactive effects matter? Drug Alcohol Depend 136:153-7
Dakwar, Elias; Levin, Frances R (2013) Individual mindfulness-based psychotherapy for cannabis or cocaine dependence: a pilot feasibility trial. Am J Addict 22:521-6
Dakwar, Elias; Blanco, Carlos; Lin, Keng-han et al. (2012) Exercise and mental illness: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). J Clin Psychiatry 73:960-6
Dakwar, Elias; Mahony, Amy; Pavlicova, Martina et al. (2012) The utility of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder screening instruments in individuals seeking treatment for substance use disorders. J Clin Psychiatry 73:e1372-8