UMMS Investigator Receives NIH Merit Award: Molecular research on alcoholism awarded prestigious five-year extension

July 01, 2000

WORCESTER, Mass. - As part of a highly selective National Institutes of Health research grant program, Steven N. Treistman, PhD, professor of pharmacology and molecular toxicology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, was awarded a five-year extension on his research into the molecular mechanisms of alcohol and drug addiction. The prestigious award, made on the basis of Treistman's past research accomplishments, professional competence, creativity and productivity, allows the researcher to focus on his work for five additional years-until 2009-without the distraction and burden of seeking additional funding. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the NIH Institute providing the extension funding, selects only one or two researchers for MERIT awards per year.

"This is truly an honor for Dr. Treistman," said Aaron Lazare, MD, chancellor and dean of the medical school. "Researchers like Steven are the driving force behind the UMass Medical School's success and we are thrilled that he's been recognized with a MERIT Award."

Initiated in 1987, the MERIT Award program extends funding to a select number of investigators who have demonstrated superior competence and outstanding productivity during their previous research endeavors. The MERIT awards are intended to provide such investigators with long-term, stable support to foster their continued creativity and spare them some of the administrative burdens associated with frequent preparation and submission of research grant applications. The principal feature of the program is the opportunity for such investigators to gain up to ten years of support in two segments: the initial grant and the extension of that grant.

Treistman's research, for which the original $1.3 million grant was awarded in 1999, is predicated on the premise that development of effective treatments for addiction, such as alcoholism, will be significantly speeded by an understanding of the molecular basis for drug craving. His work focuses primarily on the molecular mechanism by which alcohol alters the function of brain cells.

"For many years," Treistman said, "the textbook dogma for how alcohol works, at the molecular level, stated that it dissolved in the fatty (lipid) membrane of brain cells, and secondarily perturbed the function of the proteins imbedded in this membrane-leading to impaired function of the brain. However, it is now becoming clear that alcohol interacts directly with critical proteins, although this interaction is likely to be influenced by the lipid environment within the membrane."

"Substance abuse represents a huge societal problem," he added. "It can be vastly destructive to individuals and families." Treistman's previous research has found that the structure of the channels in cell membranes-through which ions move into and out of nerve cells- may help explain the basis for intoxication and why one person may be more prone to alcoholism than another. Armed with such knowledge, he hopes to be able to identify and prevent molecular changes that cause cravings and withdrawal. "Aside from the practical implications, this is extraordinarily exciting research at the level of basic neuroscience," he added.

Treistman joined UMMS in 1981 as an adjunct associate professor of pharmacology, having been a senior scientist with the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research for nearly ten years. Currently, in addition to his professorship in pharmacology and molecular toxicology, he is an adjunct professor in anesthesiology and the co-director of UMass Medical School's interdisciplinary program in Neuroscience. He serves on numerous scientific committees and panels, including the Board of Scientific Councilors for the NIH's intramural program. He is a member of various professional organizations, including the Society for Neuroscience, the Research Society on Alcoholism, and the International Brain Research Organization.

Treistman earned his bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1967 and his PhD in neurobiology from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in 1973. He was a postdoctoral fellow at New York University School of Medicine in 1973-75, where he became interested in neurochemical methodologies. His research fellowship at the Friedrich Miescher-Institut in Switzerland familiarized him with pharmacological techniques.

The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research. UMass Medical School and its clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care, attracts more than $93 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. Research funding enables UMass researchers to explore human disease from the molecular level to large-scale clinical trials. Basic and clinical research leads to new approaches for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease.

National Institutes of Health ( This link goes to another web server
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism ( This link goes to another web server
Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research (
Society for Neuroscience ( This link goes to another web server
The Research Society on Alcoholism ( This link goes to another web server
The International Brain Research Organization ( This link goes to another web server