Public Release: 

Pitt researchers to study impact of adolescent brain development and substance abuse

Pitt awarded more than $5 million grant to study drug use on teen brain

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 8, 2015 - A research team in the department of psychiatry, at the University of Pittsburgh, has been awarded a $5 Million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to participate in a multi-site study focusing on the impact of adolescent marijuana, alcohol and other drug use on the developing brain.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study will follow nearly 10,000 9- and 10-year-old children over the next several years, beginning prior to drug use and continuing through the period of highest risk for substance abuse and other mental health disorders. Nearly 500 local children are expected to participate in the study.

Duncan B. Clark, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will lead the local research site. In total, the ABCD grants will fund 11 research sites, a coordinating center and a data analysis and informatics center.

"There is much to learn about the effects of marijuana, alcohol and other substances on the development of the adolescent brain. At this time, there are inconsistent findings in small studies," said Dr. Clark. "For that reason, the NIH has decided to fund this very large prospective study to follow children before they have engaged in any substance use or abuse, through their teen years and into young adulthood."

Armed with the NIH funding, the Pitt team, which includes David Lewis, M.D., Beatriz Luna, Ph.D., Rolf Loeber Ph.D., and Claudiu Schirda, Ph.D., will address key issues such as the impact of occasional verses regular substance use on brain development, the link between substance use and mental illness, physical health and development, academic achievement, and which factors influence substance use and its consequences. Study results will be used to prioritize prevention and treatment research as well as influence public health strategies and policy decisions.

"This will be the first research project to study such a large group of individuals from early in development, when most would not have used drugs, to possibly peak use in adolescence, and to explore different pathways that contribute to decreases in substance use with maturation," said Dr. Luna. "This will enable us to understand predictors of use and the nature of effects of substance use during brain development through childhood and adolescence."

The ABCD Study was initiated by the Collaborative Research on Addiction at NIH (CRAN), including the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse and the National Cancer Institute. With additional support from other NIH organizations, including the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research.


For more information, visit the ABCD Study website.

The project is funded by grant 1U01DA041028-01.

About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation's leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1998. In rankings recently released by the National Science Foundation, Pitt ranked fifth among all American universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support.

Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region's economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see

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