Young Researchers

The Psychiatric Research Institute’s newest and youngest researchers have made great strides in recent months. Listed below are some of the recent accomplishments of our up-and-coming scientists.

Ashley Acheson, Ph.D., is an associate professor and director of the Program on the Translational Science of Drug Abuse. His research is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse and focuses on identifying behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms contributing to alcohol and other drug use disorders. His research program is collaborative and team-based, involving leading experts in behavioral and clinical assessments, neuroimaging, inflammation, treatment interventions, and statistics. The ultimate goal is of this research is to facilitate more effective prevention and treatment strategies for alcohol and other drug use disorders. His most recent grants include a $518,469 award from the NIAAA to study behavioral risk factors associated with alcoholism and a $490,109 award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for a study relating brain maturation to impulse control and substance abuse development.

Merideth Addicott, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry who recently joined the Center for Addiction Research at UAMS. Addicott is currently funded by a K01 award from National Institutes of Health to study the effects of tobacco addiction and nicotine on the brain and decision-making behavior. In particular, she is studying the role of distress tolerance in smoking and smoking cessation. Distress tolerance is the ability to pursue a goal, such as quitting smoking, in the face of emotional or physical discomfort, such as nicotine withdrawal or cravings. Addicott’s goal at UAMS is to build a smoking cessation research program along with collaborators in the College of Public Health and the Rockefeller Cancer Institute. She also has ongoing studies investigating how transcranial magnetic stimulation affects the brain and measures of distress tolerance, as well as how stimulant medication affects motivated behavior in adults with and without attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. As a neuroimager, Addicott will also be working closely with collaborators in the Brain Imaging Research Institute.

Keith Bush, Ph.D., of the Brain Imaging Research Center, received a three-year grant worth $422,610 from the National Science Foundation in June and a two-year NARSAD (National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression) Young Investigator Grant by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation worth $70,000 in August. Bush’s National Science Foundation project, “Cognitive Control Theoretic Mechanisms of Real-time fMRI-Guided Neuromodulation,” will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study cognitive control in healthy men and women ages 18 to 65. The NARSAD grant is designed to help researchers launch careers in neuroscience and psychiatric research and gather pilot data to apply for larger federal and university grants. Bush will use the grant to causally test the validity of distraction, an important emotion regulation strategy within cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), as well as to attempt to identify this strategy’s underlying neural mechanism.

Jessica Coker, M.D., an assistant professor in the Women’s Mental Health Program, co-leads the clinical service of seeing pregnant and postpartum women with psychiatric illness. She received the Marion B. Lyon New Investigator Grant from Arkansas Children’s Research Institute in April as principal investigator of a study examining the role of nicotine metabolism in neonatal abstinence syndrome, typically seen in infants shortly after delivery following exposure to opioids. Her primary interest lies in treating substance use disorders in pregnant women and prevention of neonatal abstinence syndrome. She works closely with UAMS’ Centers for Distance Health and the ANGELS program through the Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology in providing treatment to this underserved population. She has also works closely with collaborators in the Brain Imaging Research Institute on various projects during her time in residency and as faculty.

Michael A. Cucciare, Ph.D., of PRI’s Division of Health Services Research, was awarded a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) last September to study the effectiveness of a brief intensive referral intervention to help family and friends of people with alcohol use disorders connect to supportive services including Al-Anon. Cucciare is principal investigator on the study. The project will target concerned others of persons in treatment for an alcohol use disorder to increase their participation in the recovery process while improving their own well-being.

Andrew James, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Brain Imaging Research Institute, received a two-year R21 grant worth $409,750 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in September. James is the principal investigator in a study investigating patterns of brain organization which may promote resilience against developing psychiatric illnesses after experiencing childhood trauma. The study is a follow-up to research initiated in 2014 by James and Clint Kilts, Ph.D., director of the Brain Imaging Research Center, studying how childhood trauma may lead to addiction. James will also be studying adolescent females who participated in previous BIRC studies to test how past trauma-related brain organization may protect against developing addiction.

Sufna John, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry, received a two-year postdoctoral award worth $220,490 from the UAMS Translational Research Institute in October. The KL2 Mentored Research Career Development Scholar Award will support her project examining the impact of early childhood education factors on the effectiveness of therapy services for preschool-aged children who present with disruptive behaviors. The project will also pilot a coordinated care model to enhance outcomes for young children and families who receive services across settings. The goal of the study is to improve the trajectory of young children with disruptive behaviors through enhancing the compatibility and coordination of the services they receive.

Sara J. Landes, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and clinical psychologist with the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, is an implementation science researcher, with a focus on psychotherapy and suicide prevention. Landes was elected president of the Society for Implementation Research Collaboration (SIRC) at the group’s biennial conference in September in Seattle, Wash. SIRC is dedicated to facilitating communication and collaboration between implementation research teams, researchers, and community providers. At UAMS, Landes is currently funded by the Department of Defense to serve on the Military Suicide Research Consortium’s Dissemination & Implementation Core. She also collaborates with Michael Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., in the UAMS Emergency Department to evaluate implementation of a mental health screener. At the VA, she is the principal investigator of a $1.2 million grant to evaluate the implementation of REACH VET, a suicide prevention program that utilizes predictive modeling.

Shona Ray-Griffith, M.D., an assistant professor in the Women’s Mental Health Program, co-leads the clinical service of seeing pregnant and postpartum women with psychiatric illness, substance use disorders, and chronic pain disorders. Her current research interests include expansion of non-pharmacological treatment options for perinatal mood disorders and the management of chronic pain disorders during the perinatal period. In 2015, she received a KL2 Career Development Award from the UAMS Translational Research Institute to study the course of chronic pain during pregnancy and its impact on obstetrical and neonatal outcomes as well as a NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation to study the effects of maternal acetaminophen use during pregnancy on child neurobehavioral outcomes. Ray-Griffith’s current and previous work includes collaborations with the Departments of Pediatrics, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Pharmacology and the Brain Imaging Research Institute.