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Professor to study weight gain, anti-anxiety drug connection

Wofford researcher receives major NIH grant for program
Dr. David Pittman 382x255

Dr. David W. Pittman, associate professor of psychology at Wofford, has centered his research on taste and its effect on eating habits.

2012-09-06

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – A Wofford College psychology professor has received a major grant to conduct research to identify the connection between overeating and the use of some popular anti-anxiety drugs – the first research of its kind.
  Dr. David W. Pittman, associate professor of psychology, and his collaborator, Dr. J.P. Baird at Amherst College, have received a nearly $414,000 Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. They will research the mechanisms and brain areas involved in the overeating side effect of anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax and Valium. As the principle investigator, Pittman has received $342,422 of the grant while Baird received $71,578 in support of collaborative research at Amherst.

The research also will allow student involvement and an innovative exchange program for student research fellows.

Pittman says the research will add to scientific knowledge on a growing public health challenge in the United States. “Each year, medical professionals diagnose more than 6 million people in the United States with generalized anxiety disorder,” he says. “For more than half of them, doctors prescribe benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and Valium, as part of their treatment plan.” He hopes his research using a rat animal model will help medical professionals better understand the mechanisms that underlie the weight gain often associated with benzodiazepines.

“Rats over-consume taste solutions under the influence of these drugs in the same way humans overeat,” Pittman says. “A better understanding of how these drugs affect specific areas of the rat’s brain involved with taste and appetite could aid in the prevention of the prevalence of weight gain in people prescribed benzodiazepines.”

The grant also provides a critical opportunity for undergraduate students at Wofford and Amherst to participate in cutting-edge scientific research. Students at each institution will conduct laboratory research year-round, and during each of the next three summers for the duration of the grant, one student from each college will work with students at the other in an innovative exchange program for student research fellows.

“Dr. Pittman continues providing tremendous opportunities for students to do publication-quality research – six publications in the past six years that included 20 student co-authors,” Dr. David S. Wood, dean of Wofford, says. “His leading-edge research in the area of obesity, his creation of the Healthy Eating Decisions program for elementary school children in the fight against childhood obesity, and his teaching and research that has involved so many Wofford students are just some of the reasons he received the 2011 Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science.”

For more information on the research plan for the NIH grant, the students involved and the latest findings, go to their website at www.benzotaste.com.