Approximately 8% of the United States population ages 12 and older are illicit drug users (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2009). Despite the economic, criminal, and medical consequences associated with drug abuse, most people still do not understand that drug addiction is a brain disease. One strategy to better enhance public awareness about addiction is to develop and implement an educational program to teach the science of drug addiction at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Students exposed to such a program could be as knowledgeable about the science and consequences of drug addiction as they are about mathematics, economics, language arts, and history. Current K-12 drug abuse programs are primarily directed toward providing students with information about addiction and abused drugs (ATOD-TV, If You Drink) or dissuading students from using drugs (DARE, Life Skills Training). A long-standing gap in drug abuse education that is not addressed by existing programs is the ability for students to conduct and design experiments in live animals. In vivo effects of addictive substances are typically studied in mammals (humans, mice, rats), but extensive use of mammals in K-12 classrooms is impractical due to economic, practical, legal, and ethical concerns. What is needed to overcome this barrier is a non-mammalian species - one that is scientifically relevant but cheaper and more convenient than mammals. We hypothesize that planarians, an aquatic flatworm, can be used to design a hands-on, inquiry-based educational program for elementary, middle, and high school students. The program will contain lessons linked to National Science Education Standards (NSES) and state standards that will enable students to design and conduct experiments to study the pharmacology of abused drugs (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol) and learn how these pharmacological effects are used to predict and model aspects of human addiction. Planarians are ideal organisms because they have what some consider the earliest 'brain'and possess mammalian-like neurotransmitter systems that are targeted by addictive substances. Dr. Rawls'extensive publication record studying the pharmacological effects of drugs of abuse in planarians indicates that these organisms are ideal for students to study conditions that perpetuate the addictive process, including physical dependence, withdrawal, sensitization, tolerance, and environmental place conditioning. The proposed partnerships between scientists, educators, and students are expected to result in the development, implementation, and dissemination of a reproducible drug abuse program for grade 4-12 students that is sustainable beyond the duration of the initial grant period. We expect this novel program to achieve the multiple goals of increasing student knowledge about the science of drug addiction, increasing student awareness about the care and use of animals in basic science research, shifting student attitudes about drug abuse, and enhancing student interest in pursuing biomedical research careers.
This Science Education Against Drug Abuse Partnership Program (SEADAPP) proposes to use live animals - simple flatworms- to develop and implement a hands-on, inquiry-based program to teach elementary, middle, and high school students about the science of drug addiction and pharmacology of drugs of abuse. The program is expected to increase public awareness about: the nature of drug addiction as a brain disease, behaviors that increase the risk of drug abuse, the usefulness of animals to study diseases, the development of medications to treat those diseases, and rewarding careers in the biomedical sciences.
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