Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Written by Jackson Fischer

Kim Avrama Blackwell
Kim "Avrama" Blackwell

Kim "Avrama" Blackwell, professor and department executive officer of the Roy J. Carver Department of Biomedical Engineering, was recently awarded a $2.35 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to advance her research on the correlation between substance abuse and female sex hormones. 

Substance use disorders affect approximately 15% of the population, with gender disparities influencing all stages of the cycle. Research has shown that women often use drugs differently, respond to drugs differently, and are more susceptible to craving and relapse, which are key phases in the addiction cycle. 

Blackwell's study aims to explore the role of female sex hormones in shaping gender differences in the onset of substance use disorders. Specifically, her research will concentrate on discovering neural mechanisms whereby female sex hormones influence memory storage and drug taking. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently awarded funding for the study called "Estradiol Signaling Pathways Mediating Sex Differences in Striatal Synaptic Plasticity." The agency awarded $608,662 for year one of what is expected to be a four-year $2.35 million study. 

The study will use mouse models to demonstrate how the female sex hormone estradiol interacts with cocaine, altering the memory storage in brain cells in the dorsal striatum—a vital component of the motor and reward systems. 

Blackwell, who joined the BME department in 2023, serves as the principal investigator for the study. In addition to her role in the BME department, Blackwell is an affiliate with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute and a member of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience. 

Blackwell will collaborate with Ted Abel, director of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute and department executive officer of neuroscience and pharmacology, and Ryan LaLumiere, professor and director of graduate studies in psychology and brain sciences. 

According to Blackwell, the ultimate goal of her research is to uncover underlying gender-based behavioral differences and to identify strategies for enhancing substance abuse interventions tailored to females.