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Recently Awarded Research Grants

Project Title:

Nexus of Risk: Sexual Assault, Alcohol Use, and Risky Sex among College Women

Project Principal Investigator/s:
Elizabeth Yeater, Ph.D.

Funding Agency:
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Amount Awarded:
$665,994

Period of Performance:
05/2018 - 05/2021

Goals and Aims of Study

This study will use Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) to obtain a better understanding of the contextual determinants of sexual assault, as well as the co-occurrence of victimization, risky sex, and substance use. These findings will inform the development of an Ecological Momentary Intervention (EMI) that will provide college women with personalized feedback about their level of risk for victimization and related adverse events. The effectiveness of EMA/EMI in decreasing rates of sexual assault, risky sexual behavior, and substance use then will be evaluated relative to an EMA-only and an assessment-only control group.

How this Research Will Benefit Society

In spite of the development of numerous preventative interventions aimed at decreasing the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses, rates of victimization have remained steady over several decades. Moreover, these interventions have been relatively ineffective at changing behavior.EMI may prove to be an effective intervention for college women who are at risk for assault. Because it could be delivered on a smartphone, it would be portable, cost-effective, and easily disseminated to college women and continually available during high-risk times.

Project Title:

Neurocognitive and Neurobehavioral Mechanisms of Change following Psychological Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Project Principal Investigator/s:
Dr. Barbara McCrady

Funding Agency:
NIH/NIAAA

Amount Awarded:
$2,935,546

Period of Performance:
04/2018 - 03/2023

Goals and Aims of Study

Aim 1: To examine hypothesis-driven neurocognitive and behavioral mechanisms of drinking behavior changes following two treatments that will target three hypothesized mechanisms: craving/regulation of craving, cognitive and behavioral control, and regulation of affect/arousal.

Aim 2: To identify baseline characteristics (neurocognitive and behavioral) predictive of reductions in drinking over time and differential patterns of response to Cognitive Behavior Therapy or Mindfulness Based Treatment.

How this Research Will Benefit Society

Gaining an understanding of the mechanisms that lead to successful drinking behavior change during treatment for alcohol use disorders is critical for improving treatment outcomes. The current study will examine behavior change from multiple perspectives including self-report, behavioral performance, and functional neuroimaging within the context of cognitive behavioral treatment or mindfulness based treatment to identify those mechanisms that lead to reductions in drinking. Results from the proposed study may provide key mechanisms that could be targeted in future treatment studies.

Project Title:

Understanding Key Components of Successful Autonomous Space Missions

Dr. Tofighi

Project Principal Investigator/s:
Dr. Davood Tofighi

Funding Agency:
Georgia Institute of Technology

Amount Awarded:
$200,000

Period of Performance:
07/2017 - 06/2019

Goals and Aims of Study

Exploration space missions will require that crewmembers maintain effective task and teamwork while confined in an isolated environment over long durations. Communication with ground support will be significantly delayed during long duration exploration missions or may be disrupted or unavailable during portions of the mission.  Space crews will be required not only to manage their own behavioral health and team performance during periods of autonomy, but also to navigate varying levels of autonomy as needed to coordinate and collaborate with mission control despite communication challenges. To date, we lack a scientifically grounded model of the relationship between crew autonomy and team effectiveness, and the cognitive, interpersonal and motivational/affective mechanisms that explain how crew autonomy influences team effectiveness of both crew and mission control.  As a result, we do not know how best to prepare crewmembers and mission control personnel throughout these long duration exploration missions.  The proposed research will address these gaps.  We will conduct several ground-based analog missions that simulate work and living conditions during long duration exploration missions (i.e., confinement for a long period, social isolation, communication delay with mission control, mission objectives, off-nominal events) to a) examine and model the impact of crew autonomy on both the crew and mission control, and b) to determine whether its impact changes over time.

How this Research Will Benefit Society

The research is a part of NASA Human Research Program’s effort to investigate and mitigate the highest risks to astronaut health and performance in exploration missions. Findings of our research will be used to provide human health and performance countermeasures, knowledge, technologies, and tools to enable safe, reliable, and productive human space exploration. The scope of this goal includes both the successful completion of exploration missions and the preservation of astronaut health over the life of the astronaut.

Project Title:

Neural Mechanisms of Spatial Disorientation in Alzheimer's Disease

Project Principal Investigator/s:
Dr. Benjamin Clark

Funding Agency:
Alzheimer's Association

Amount Awarded:
$150,000

Period of Performance:
10/2018 - 09/2018

Goals and Aims of Study

How this Research Will Benefit Society

Because Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder, scientists are looking to clarify the brain changes that occur in the disease’s earliest stage, when therapies can be most effective. These early changes include the clumping of protein molecules called beta-amyloid and tau in the temporal lobe — a brain region key to learning and memory. Research has also found that people with early Alzheimer’s experience spatial disorientation, or the inability to recognize places and find their way from one location to another, even in familiar environments such as a neighborhood or home. While scientists do not know exactly how spatial disorientation develops in early Alzheimer’s disease, evidence suggests that it may involve damage to certain brain cells called “head-direction” cells. These are cell that become activated when an animal points its head in a particular direction suggesting their importance in spatial orientation. However, damage to head-direction cells may induce spatial disorientation and possibly play a role in the development of dementia.

Benjamin Clark, Ph.D., and colleagues plan to test the hypothesis that spatial disorientation in early Alzheimer’s disease is due in part to an impaired head-direction cell system. For this effort, they will use a novel rat model engineered to develop beta-amyloid, tau, and other Alzheimer’s-related brain changes. They will assess whether the mice develop changes to the structure and activity of their head-direction cells, and whether these changes are associated with poor performance on spatial orientation tasks. Such work will involve sophisticated techniques for imaging brain cells and recording electrical cellular function from this network of cells. 

The results of this effort, if successful, could lead to a greater understanding of the mechanism responsible for spatial disorientation in humans and the development of dementia. Ultimately, this network of cells could play an important role in early detection and treating Alzheimer’s disease.