News Release

Marshall researcher receives NIH grant to study binge drinking

Grant and Award Announcement

Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Mary-Louise Risher, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical sciences at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, has received a $388,500 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how binge drinking during teens and early twenties disrupts brain function that can persist into adulthood.

During the two-year grant, Risher will explore how binge drinking influences communication between neuronal and non-neuronal cells. Non-neuronal cells called astrocytes are critical in helping regulate neuronal function and emotion, motivation and memory. Astrocytes and neurons work together and, through continuous crosstalk, help maintain a healthy brain. When astrocyte-neuronal crosstalk is disrupted by repeated binge alcohol exposure, it interferes with normal cognition and these effects can persist into adulthood. The new grant will allow Risher and her team to identify the mechanisms that drive these changes and identify novel targets and treatments for the prevention and reversal of long-term alcohol-induced cognitive dysfunction.

“Binge drinking accounts for the majority of alcohol consumed by adolescents in the U.S. and occurs during a critical period of brain development,” Risher said. “It is also associated with lasting cognitive impairment and increases the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder later in life. Our long-term goal is to understand what happens when brain development and alcohol use converge—disrupting the final stages of brain development—and how this can lead to cognitive impairment and increased prevalence of alcohol use disorder later in life.”

Since joining Marshall’s faculty in 2018, Risher has authored or co-authored seven publications, one book chapter and 22 presentations. She is the recipient of a 2021 Merit Review grant by the Veterans Affairs Office of Research and Development for a study on binge drinking. Risher previously received a Career Development Award through the VA Office of Research and Development, Biomedical Laboratory Research and Development Service and a NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

The grant was issued by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the NIH, under award number R21AA030086, as an Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award (R21), a program designed to encourage exploratory/developmental research by providing support for the early and conceptual stages of project development.

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