Mercer professor awarded $500K grant for drug addiction research

MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – A Mercer University professor has been awarded a $500,000 grant for her groundbreaking research in drug addiction behaviors.

Dr. Ashley Horner says her research could help fight America’s evergrowing opioid epidemic.

“It really costs the country a lot of money in terms of people missing work, the cost of incarceration, healthcare costs,” said the Mercer research professor.

Horner and her team at Mercer University’s School of Medicine believe they may have the makings of a solution to the rampant drug crisis.

“If we can kind of figure out the circuits and the neurons and the regions that are responsible for habit formation, then we can go in and start to untangle processes that contribute to that,” Horner told 41NBC.

She says understanding drug abuse starts with getting inside the mind of an addict.

“If you make the drugs less attractive that doesn’t necessarily break the habit, there’s something else going on.” She continued, “We’re looking at a region of the brain that’s embedded inside a larger area called the basil ganglia.”

It’s an area of the brain that handles habit formation and the center of her research.

“What we can go in and do is target certain parts of the basil ganglia and see if that disrupts the development of habitual methamphetamine use,” Horner said.

Her goal is to eventually find a way to reverse habit formation by rerouting the pathways to getting hooked. she’s hopeful now with the help from a half a million dollar grant.

Dr. Horner says she applied for the grant last October with the National Institute of Health and National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Her research currently uses lab rats to test their reaction to methamphetamine exposure.

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