The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Department of Behavioral Science
The laboratory’s current line of research focuses on investigating the neurobiological underpinnings of nicotine addiction and smoking behavior. Smoking is still the most important preventable risk factor for cancer, and curbing its prevalence remains paramount for cancer prevention. Understanding the neurobiological determinants of smoking behaviors is key to identifying new targets for treatment interventions, assessing treatment efficacy, evaluating risk of relapse, and improving clinical outcomes through patient-treatment matching.
In our studies, we use brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and dense sensor array event-related potentials (ERPs) to characterize the dysfunctional brain mechanisms that mediate reactivity to cigarette-related cues and natural rewards in smokers. The results from these studies, rigorously grounded in affective neuroscience and addiction theories, show that smokers are characterized by large individual differences in reactivity to rewards and reward-related stimuli. Taking these differences into account allowed our laboratory to better characterize the brain mechanisms responsible for cue-induced relapse, one of the key features of addiction and one of the most common obstacles that prevent smokers from quitting.
Finally, in line with theoretical models, recent empirical results from the laboratory show that obese individuals might be characterized by the same neurobiological aberrant reward processes that we observed in smokers. The opportunity to extend to obesity the experimental paradigms that we developed to study nicotine addiction is likely to exert a positive impact on cancer prevention since obesity is the leading cause of cancer morbidity and mortality among non-smokers.
Education & Training
PhD, University of Trieste, Italy, 2003