“Probing Addiction Vulnerability” lecture explores substance use disorder

By Olivia Montes
News Co-Editor

Washington College hosted Samuel ‘‘Sam’’ Bacharach, Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience from the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine as a guest speaker in Hynson Lounge at 1 p.m. on Sept. 16.  

His lecture, “Probing Addiction Vulnerability: Dopamine and Endocannabinoid Regulation of Sign Tracking in Rats,” discussed his dissertation work exploring the differences between sign and goal tracking, where subjects of studies are encouraged to complete a series of instructions when cued or in hopes of receiving a reward, further exploring the cycle of substance use disorder in humans, and what in the brain specifically causes people to relapse.    

Through consistent research, many pilot studies and related experiments, and still-ongoing analysis, Bacharach has so far found “decreasing Cannabinoid receptor type 1 [a protein that helps manage bodily effects and functions] signaling decreased ST behavior,” meaning that the introduction of CB1 slowed down the progression of relapse.

According to Bacahrach, they also discovered that their second hypothesis, which predicted “CB1 was decreasing DA [dopamine] to decrease ST,” actually proved, while it did decrease ST, dopamine remained unaffected by CB1 diffidence.

“The process of doing this research takes flexibility, patience, and most of all, persistence,” he said. “Some experiments yielded results that we had predicted, [while] other data did not support our hypothesis, [which can be] very technically challenging and it takes a lot of troubleshooting.”

“This can be frustrating, but it feels amazing when things work and you’re provided with clear data that speaks to one of your questions,” Bacharach said. 

At the invitation of Visiting Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Dan Kochli, Bacharach presented his findings to WC students, staff, and faculty, which he called an enjoyable experience.

“It is such a joy to share the research with an audience who isn’t necessarily familiar with the kind of research we do,” he said. “I was really impressed by the great questions students had after the talks.” 

Many attendees, including Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Mala Misra, found his experiment and discussion intriguing. 

“It’s always a treat to hear about emerging research in the neurosciences,” Dr. Misra said. “I was excited to learn more about some of the cool techniques [Bacharach] has been using to dissect the neural mechanisms underlying addiction and substance use disorders, [and] I love seeing our students engage with professional scientists; it’s a great way for them to learn about the process of ‘doing science’ and get a realistic sense of the alternating joys and frustrations of a career in research.” 

For other attendees, such as senior Sydney Voelbel, it was an interesting opportunity to learn more about a subject you may not be entirely familiar with.

“Whenever the psychology department offers these free presentations, the best [decision] you can do for yourself is just attend — even if the research isn’t what you’re particularly interested in, just going to the talk allows you to learn something new and potentially spark a new interest for you,” Voelbel said. “I really liked how passionate [Bacharach] was about his research, [and] seeing how passionate and important this research was to him made the presentation all that more interesting to learn about.” 

According to Baumbach, while there were “lots of ups and downs” throughout the process, he cited flexibility, patience, and determination as the key in helping him push through this process.

He also expressed hope that WC students interested in performing similar studies will develop those same skills both in and out of the classroom. 

“I hope they took away a little more than they came in with,” Bacharach said. “For students doing research…be flexible in how you think about answering a question and be flexible in your approach to get there. Even the simplest of tasks can be very difficult to execute. Just keep showing up and giving it your best — you’ll get there.”  

“No matter if it’s research, or classes, or anything else you’re doing, just try to improve it a little bit over the last time. No matter what the outcome is, learn what you can from it, and make a plan to do it better the next time. Take what you can from something and move on.”

Photo courtesy of WC Psychology Department

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