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World-acclaimed addiction research center makes official debut (5-11-01)

An internationally known scientific research center – consisting of experts working to improve the lives of people caught in the snares of addiction – officially opened May 11 in San Antonio.

The center, part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, is called the Southwest Texas Addiction Research & Technology Center (START). People such as Donald Elbel, who has done well on medications that curb his thirst for alcohol, simply call it a fresh start.

Elbel has stayed sober for two years after enrolling in a clinical trial coordinated by START researchers. Renowned psychiatrist and pharmacologist Bankole A. Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., is the director. Elbel gives credit to Dr. Johnson and his team, who have made crucial findings about key pleasure pathways in the brain and the ability of some medications to mediate those pathways. Dr. Johnson is the Wurzbach Distinguished Professor in the Health Science Center’s department of psychiatry, where he is deputy chairman of research and chief of the alcohol and drug addiction division.

Faculty see 100 to 125 clinical study participants a week at the 11,500-square-foot START Center, located at 3939 Medical Drive. Eleven federally funded and four privately funded research studies are in progress, with total funding support exceeding $10 million.

More than 30 employees work at the START Center, including psychiatrists and other physicians, psychologists, a pharmacologist, a geneticist, a radiologist, therapists, research assistants, administrative staff, data management staff, a statistician, nurse practitioners and a research nurse.

One of the recent START Center studies revealed that a medication, ondansetron, is effective at reducing drinking in early-onset alcoholics. Another study showed that ondansetron and another medication, naltrexone, when given in combination, have a powerful effect in reducing drinking in the same group. “Alcoholics are not all the same,” Dr. Johnson said. “The hope for the future is to give the treatment that is best for each person.”

The public is invited to learn more by calling the START Center at (210) 562-5400.

Contact: Will Sansom