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Volkow Assumes Post as Director of NIDA

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Dr. Nora D. Volkow assumed the duties of director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse on May 1. A leader in drug addiction research, she is the first woman to serve as NIDA's director since the founding of the institute. She replaces Dr. Glen R. Hanson, who served as acting director of NIDA since the departure of Dr. Alan I. Leshner, the previous NIDA director, in 2001.


Volkow comes to NIDA from Brookhaven National Laboratory, where she held concurrent positions including associate director for life sciences, director of nuclear medicine and director of the NIDA-DoE Regional Neuroimaging Center. In addition, she was a professor in the department of psychiatry and associate dean for the medical school at the State University of New York-Stony Brook.

Dr. Nora Volkow

"Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic change in the view of drug addiction," said Volkow. "Research is showing us that addiction is a brain disease, therefore it should be treated like any other chronic disease. As director, I will strive to continue NIDA's efforts to bring researchers, clinicians and providers together to realize the full benefits of science in fighting addiction and improving the quality of care provided for patients. I will work to assure that the institute will continue to nurture quality research in all scientific disciplines, including basic neurobiology and to generate new information to improve the ways we prevent and treat drug abuse."

Volkow brings to NIDA a long record of accomplishment in drug addiction research. She is a recognized expert on the brain's dopamine system with her research focusing on the brains of addicted, obese and aging individuals. Her studies have documented changes in the dopamine system affecting the actions of frontal brain regions involved with motivation, drive and pleasure and the decline of brain dopamine function with age associated with slowing of motor function and changes in cognitive skills. As a scientist, she has been supported by research grants from NIDA, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Department of Energy.

At Brookhaven, Volkow pioneered the use of imaging to investigate neurochemical changes that occur during drug addiction. Her primary focus was on mechanisms underlying the reinforcing, addictive and toxic properties of drugs of abuse in the human brain. She investigated the neurochemical mechanisms influencing the way different individuals respond to drugs of abuse and the potential link to vulnerability to drug abuse, alcoholism or other impulse behaviors.

Volkow has used imaging to study the rewarding and therapeutic effects of stimulant drugs. By conducting a systematic comparison of the pharmacological effects of cocaine and methylphenidate (a drug to treat children with attention deficit disorder), her studies have highlighted the importance of pharmacokinetics in enabling the reinforcing effects of stimulant drugs. These studies have shown that stimulant drugs, when used therapeutically, amplify dopamine signals in the brain and may result in improved attention and performance while not promoting addiction to the drugs.

Her work includes more than 275 peer-reviewed publications, three edited books and more than 50 book chapters and non-peer reviewed manuscripts. The recipient of multiple awards, she was honored with the Joel Elkes International Award from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology and the Kuhl-Lassen Award from the Society of Nuclear Medicine. She was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine in the National Academy of Sciences and was named "Innovator of the Year" in 2000 by U.S. News and World Report.

Volkow was reared in Mexico City and earned her B.A. from Modern American School, Mexico City and her M.D. from the National University of Mexico, Mexico City. She completed postdoctoral training in psychiatry at New York University. In addition to Brookhaven and SUNY-Stony Brook, Volkow has worked at the University of Texas Medical School and Sainte Anne Psychiatric Hospital in Paris.

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