We are currently conducting a number of research projects in the KU BEAN Lab and in collaboration with our colleagues at the University of Kansas and other institutions. This list of projects is meant to be an overview of our studies. If you would like to learn more about a specific area, please contact Dr. Amlung by email.
Using behavioral economics to investigate decision-making in addictive disorders
Several of our projects have utilized a behavioral economics approach to investigate trait and state-level influences on motivation for alcohol and other drugs and impulsive decision-making. This work relies on the concepts of behavioral economic demand--the quantitative relationship between cost of a commodity (alcohol, tobacco, etc) and consumption--and delayed reward discounting--preferences for immediate vs. delayed rewards. We have shown previously that demand for alcohol is dynamically increased by alcohol-related environmental cues related to alcohol and also by acute stress.
We are continuing this work by exploring the neural correlates of alcohol demand decision making (described below) and the impact of next-day responsibilities on alcohol demand decisions. In collaboration with Dr. Derek Reed and others, we are utilizing behavioral economic methods to examine co-use of alcohol and e-cigarettes (vaping).
Investigating functional brain activation associated with alcohol demand and delay discounting
We are currently funded (2019-2024) by an R01 grant from NIAAA to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the neural correlates of state-based increases and decreases in alcohol demand in heavy drinkers. These studies are focused on two established factors that influence alcohol demand, including increases in alcohol demand in the presence of alcohol-related cues, and decreases in alcohol demand in the presence of important next-day responsibilities. This study is being conducted at the University of Kansas and McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
Examining novel structural brain markers of alcohol use disorder
Chronic alcohol use is associated with substantial negative effects on the structure and function of the brain. From 2018-2021, our lab was funded by an R21 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to use structural MRI to investigate the role of intracortical myelin in the neuropathology of alcohol use disorders. We have also examined examining associations between brain structure (cortical thickness, gray matter volume) and neurocognitive functioning among heavy drinkers using data from the Human Connectome Project.
Exploring novel behavioral and neuromodulatory interventions for addictive disorders
We are interested in leveraging our expertise in behavioral science to develop novel interventions for addictive disorders. For example, Herry Patel (a PhD student affiliated with the lab) conducted his thesis project exploring the use of Episodic Future Thinking in a treatment-seeking sample of people with addictive disorders. We have also investigated the use of contingency management for promoting smoking cessation among people with schizophrenia who also smoke cigarettes.
This work also includes the use of novel neuromodulatory techniques. For example, we recently completed a pilot study in the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research investigating the effects of a type of non-invasive brain stimulation (transcranial direct current stimulation) on neurocognitive processes in addiction. Specifically, we are examining whether tDCS stimulation over prefrontal cortex regions impacts measures of risk-taking in people who use cannabis compared to non-users.
Other collaborative projects
Examples of studies that we are conducting with colleagues at KU, McMaster University, and other institutions include:
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KU BEAN Lab - Dr. Michael Amlung, Director
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