Helen Fox, PhD, receives $2.4 million grant from NIH/NIDA

Helen Fox, PhD; NIH/NIDA grant; guanfacine;
Helen Fox, PhD

A researcher from Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University has received a $2.4 million federal grant to study whether a medication can improve treatment outcomes for women undergoing substance abuse treatment by reducing drug cravings and increasing cognitive flexibility during stress.

Helen Fox, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, received the funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) funding for a collaborative grant with Yale Stress Center at Yale University School of Medicine.

The grant, which began on April 1, 2019, is for three years. The research is titled, “Guanfacine Target Engagement and Validation to Improve Substance Use Outcomes in Women (1R01 DA-047094-01).

“Substance use disorders have devastating medical and social consequences, and there are currently no Food and Drug Administration-approved medications that address co-occurring substance use disorders in women,” said Dr. Fox. “As the negative consequences of drug use in females often appear accelerated or ‘telescoped’ the development of a medication that targets this vulnerability in women is imperative.”

Being able to conduct the study both at Stony Brook and at Yale will also help to evaluate data replication and scalability of guanfacine’s effects across multiple sites. The study involves a 10-week outpatient clinical trial to be conducted across the two sites.

A laboratory component of the clinical trial in week zero (pre-medication) and week nine (when participants have obtained a full dose of three milligrams per day for six weeks) will be conducted as well to better understand some of the bio-behavioral processes underlying the potential efficacy of the drug — specifically, whether guanfacine versus placebo is able to decrease craving and improve cognitive flexibility in the face of stress, and whether these changes predict improved outcome during the course of the clinical trial.

During the trial, participants will visit the outpatient sites twice a week to receive medication management. Additional daily assessment of mood, craving and substance use will be made throughout the study using a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant smartphone application.

Dr. Fox has a long history of research interests related to stress and immune system adaptations in individuals using alcohol, cocaine, opioids and club drugs (including synthetic marijuana and synthetic cathinone derivatives). These include establishing the neurocognitive effects of club drugs, gender and addiction, development of medications for addiction and teratogenic effects of substance use.