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Developing Substance Abuse Research Infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe

A University of Michigan project for Developing Substance Abuse Research Infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe brings together psychologists, psychiatrists, and other clinical and biomedical scientists with the goal of improving the substance abuse research infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe.

By Robert A. Zucker, PhD

A University of Michigan project for Developing Substance Abuse Research Infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe brings together psychologists, psychiatrists, and other clinical and biomedical scientists with the goal of improving the substance abuse research infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe. Funded by the NIH Fogarty International Center and the National Institute on Drug Abuse in collaboration with the Polish Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology (IPN), the vehicle for development is a three-tiered training program to increase the cadre of independent and collaborative researchers working in Poland, Slovakia, Latvia and the Ukraine.

The first program tier brings early career psychologists, psychiatrists, and other behavioral and biomedical scientists from their home country to Ann Arbor for a year of mentored research training, followed up by a second year of program-supported pilot research at the investigator’s home institution. The second tier is a series of shorter term fellowships for mid-career and more senior scientists to spend 2-3 months in the United States for focused training and the development of collaborative relationships with American colleagues. The third program tier, a yearly workshop series held in one of the host countries, is open to all levels of substance abuse scientists from graduate students to more advanced and senior researchers. The curriculum involves short term research training on specialized research issues (study design, statistical power, ethical issues in the conduct of human research, design of clinical trials, etc.) as well as poster sessions where attendees present their work. Senior collaborators from the US and foreign sites also use the workshop contact to fine-tune their programs, identify new fellows, and build new collaborations.

The long term intent for all these activities is the development and extension of research programs for the evaluation of existing treatment and prevention programming (for the conduct of new clinical trials in these areas, the conduct of more basic research on etiology and clinical course, and the development of increased educational programs to sustain the learning that is initiated by training program exposure). A secondary outcome, already successfully accomplished, is the fostering of research collaborations between program graduates and US scientists.

The collaboration began in 2001 and in its first five years only involved the United States and Poland. In 2006, the program was extended to include collaborations with the Institute and Centre for Treatment of Drug Dependencies in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, the Department of Psychiatry and Narcology at Riga Stradins University in Riga, Latvia, the Clinical and Social Narcology Department at the Ukrainian Scientific Research Institute of Social, Forensic Psychiatry and Narcology, in Kiev, and with the Department for Prevention and Treatment of Drug Addictions at the Institute of Neurology, Psychiatry and Narcology of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the Ukraine, in Kharkov.

Now funded through 2011, the program has already had substantial impact: Eight trainees have spent a year in the United States; three have already received external funding of projects begun during their fellowships, with some funding coming from the NIH, some from the European Union, and some from agencies of the Polish government; 81 scientists and scientist-clinicians at different levels of training have attended the yearly workshops; and a new curriculum on substance abuse research has been introduced at the Medical University of Warsaw. The curriculum now exposes all medical students to substance abuse clinical and basic research content. An initiative for matching funds has been negotiated with the two Polish government agencies which support substance abuse research, in order to support the re-entry projects and a new Addiction Psychiatry Section in the Polish Psychiatric Society has been created, which provides an interest group on addiction disorders, allows information exchange, and fosters new scientific collaborations. In addition, a series of planning meetings initiated at the workshops with senior scientists and the directors of the major Polish substance abuse funding agencies has led to the formation of a Polish scientific society on the addictions (officially named the Polish Society for Research on Addictions). Along with a formal mission statement and a new set of by-laws, the Society will be having its first scientific meeting this September in Warsaw, with a current membership totaling a little under 100 members. Ψ