PHILADELPHIA - The Mahoney Institute for Neurosciences (MINS) at the University of Pennsylvania announced that Michael R. Bruchas, PhD, the Henry E. Mallinckrodt Professor in the departments of Anesthesiology and Neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, is the recipient of the inaugural Rising Star Award in neuroscience research. To highlight the Year of Addiction Research on Penn’s campus, the 2018 award honors a young researcher for outstanding contributions to addiction research. The award will be given each year to highlight annually a particular field of neuroscience research.  

“Drug addiction is a major, undertreated health problem. I am proud that MINS is at the forefront of research into the causes and consequences of addiction,” said John A. Dani, PhD, director of MINS and chair of the department of Neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine. “The applicant pool for this award was deep, with many outstanding candidates from around the country and abroad who underwent three rounds of evaluation. Three finalists were evaluated by senior scientists and scientist administrators. In light of the many outstanding candidates, Dr. Bruchas’s selection is testimony to his exceptional work to date and potential for advancing our understanding of the addiction process, ideally leading to improvements in future therapies.”

Broadly, his research interests include the neurobiology underlying drug use and abuse, with a focus on neuromodulatory G-protein coupled neurotransmitter receptors (GPCRs) in the central and peripheral nervous system. (Neuromodulation is the modification of nerve activity through delivery of a stimulus, such as a medication or drug of abuse, to particular neurological sites in the body.) GPCRs are a broad family of proteins whose chief function is to convert stimuli from outside the cell into intracellular signals and ultimately, cellular responses, such as sensory perception and immune defense. They are involved in almost all facets of nervous system functioning. In addition, these receptors are targets for many medications.

While drugs such as cocaine, nicotine, and opiates directly or indirectly affect GPCR functioning, meaning that addictive behavior is a consequence of signaling disorders in the brain, most of the promising therapies for addiction are also due to alterations in neuromodulatory circuits and GPCR signaling—with the result that some medications targeting GPCRs are able to modify drug-seeking behavior.

Bruchas works to discover how GPCR receptor systems function in the context of addiction and treatment. His accomplishments include identifying new pathways that ultimately influence positive and negative behavioral responses that contribute to substance-abuse disorders. 

Bruchas will receive a $10,000 personal honorarium and deliver a presentation at the MINS 34th annual retreat and symposium on April 11, 2018.

He received his undergraduate degree in biology and PhD in pharmacology from Creighton University. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience at the University of Washington in Seattle. His laboratory’s discoveries have been published in such journals as Science, Cell, and Neuron and featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and other international publications. 

MINS focuses on integrated neuroscience research and training, supporting cross-disciplinary and integrated approaches to fundamental, pre-clinical, and clinical research of over 150 faculty members from 32 academic departments at Penn and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.

The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.

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