Development of a hands-on, inquiry-based program/curriculum to teach the science of addiction and hazards of drug abuse to undergraduate, professional, and K-12 school students using a flatworm called planarians.
My laboratory has demonstrated that planarians display mammalian-like responses to addictive substances. Some of our most important findings are that planarians display increased motility and stereotypy following acute exposure to addictive substances; abstinence-induced withdrawal behaviors following spontaneous discontinuation of exposure to addictive substances; sensitization of behavioral responses following repeated administration of addictive substances; a shift in environmental preference (dark to light) following conditioning with natural (sucrose) and drug rewards; and seizure-like activity following exposure to proconvulsanats that is prevented by clinical and preclinical anti-epileptic agents. Compared to mammals, advantages of planarians are the reduction of interpretive complications caused by mammalian pharmacokinetics (e.g. drug adsorption, distribution, metabolism, elimination, and blood-brain-barrier passage); ability to know drug concentration (as opposed to just dose), which is amenable to rigorous quantitative analysis; allowance for continuous drug exposure (an advantage over existing models that only allow for intermittent dosing or rely on mini-pumps to maintain constant drug concentrations); less susceptibility to higher-order confounders such as handling stress, testing-environment familiarity, procedural stresses, and anticipation of drug administration; adaptability to studying broad classes of abused drugs, poly-drug exposure and different exposure patterns that mimic recreational and addictive drug use; cost-effectiveness; a reproducible, sensitive, and quantifiable behavioral metric; ability to screen very small amounts of novel synthetic compounds that are of limited supply; and significant reduction in the use of mammals in research.
We are currently using the planarian model to develop and implement an inquiry-based educational program that will enable elementary, middle, high school, and undergraduate students to use living animals to study behavioral effects of commonly abused drugs (e.g. caffeine, alcohol, nicotine) and natural rewards (e.g. table sugar). My recently funded R25 NIDA grant is supporting these efforts related to the planarian model.
Associated SEPA Project(s)
Planarians and the Pharmacology of Addiction: An In Vivo Model for K-12 Education
1R25DA033270-01A1 : 07/15/2014 - 06/30/2018