University of Chicago named Center of Excellence in Gambling Research

February 25, 2013

The University of Chicago has been named a Center of Excellence in Gambling Research following the award of a three-year $402,500 grant to Jon Grant, MD, JD, MPH, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience, by the National Center for Responsible Gaming.

UChicago joins Yale University as the only two such designated centers in the country focusing on a multidisciplinary approach to gambling disorders and other impulse-related addictions.

"The goal of this center is to identify people who are vulnerable to developing a problem," Grant said. "The better we understand gambling, the better we understand addictions in general."

The January launch of the center coincides with one of the most active gambling seasons of the year, with wagers placed on the Super Bowl and college basketball's drive to its yearly season-ending tournament in March.

Grant came to the University of Chicago from the University of Minnesota in July 2012 to expand his research into impulse control disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and drug addictions, and to take a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of gambling and other addictions.

"The findings should help with smoking, drugs and alcohol ... perhaps even overeating, overspending -- any type of impulsive behavior," he said.

There are several related elements to Grant's research to be done through the Center:

  • Continuing the longitudinal study of young people, at a time when they're at most risk of developing a gambling problem, that he started at the University of Minnesota.
  • Neuro-imaging of people with impulse control problems, and then comparing those brain scans with family members who are not afflicted to analyze differences. Emil Coccaro, MD, the Ellen C. Manning Professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago Medicine, is overseeing this portion of the research.
  • Investigating genetic markers that correlate with poor decision-making, headed by Elliot Gershon, MD, professor of psychiatry and human genetics at the University of Chicago Medicine.
  • Cognitive tasks and retraining, assisted by Samuel Chamberlain, a senior visiting clinical research fellow at England's Cambridge University.

"With more than 70 publications in scientific journals on gambling problems, Dr. Grant's work has already made a tremendous impact on the field of research of gambling disorders, bringing us one step closer to learning how to predict the emergence of gambling problems in young people," said Christine Reilly, senior research director for the NCRG. "We are pleased to invest in this NCRG Center of Excellence at the University of Chicago Medicine to continue this important work."

Peer reviewers who advised the NCRG in its selection praised Grant's proposal for its "significance, innovation and potential to advance our ability to identify and intervene early with those most at risk of developing pathological gambling and related disorders," the NCRG said. Plus, the multidisciplinary team of investigators involved was also a plus behind Grant's application.

Grant received one of the first Center of Excellence designations and grants in 2009. The program runs for three years.

The NCRG began funding Centers of Excellence in Gambling Research category in 2009 to encourage innovative, multidisciplinary research investigations of gambling disorders. The three-year grants were intended to provide funding for a stable, long-term institutional focus on a complex set of gambling-related problems.

The winners also provide leadership in the field by conducting cutting-edge investigations of gambling-related disorders, explaining their findings to non-academic audiences, and mentoring the next generation of researchers.

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