kathleen brady

Kathleen Brady, M.D., Ph.D. Photo: Medical University of South Carolina

Substance Abuse Disorders in Women: Finding the Right Treatments

School of Medicine alum and addiction research expert returns to campus to deliver Abubaker Lecture April 27.

Kathleen Brady, M.D., Ph.D., a renowned clinical and translational researcher in pharmacotherapy of substance abuse disorders — and an alumna of the VCU Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology — returns to the MCV Campus as keynote speaker for the second annual Adam Abubaker Memorial Lecture on April 27, hosted by the VCU School of Medicine.

Dr. Brady will share updates from her extensive research into substance abuse disorders in women, particularly the stress-responsive systems and their connection to addictions. Her research also focuses on comorbidity of psychiatric disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, for example, and their link to addictions.

What she has found throughout decades of research is that by adding more women to clinical trials, vast differences are realized in neurobiological responses to addiction between men and women, she said. Those outcomes make a profound difference when exploring treatments.

She explained that prior to her work and that of many others, most substance use disorder studies were only conducted with men.

“The assumption was that the men’s results could be readily applied to women,” she said. “However, the more we add women to studies in adequate numbers -- so we can look at differences -- the more differences we find.”

For example, women who already experience substance abuse disorders are more likely than men to relapse when faced with stressful situations, she said. She and her teams also discovered that the association between early life trauma and the development of substance use disorders is much stronger for women than men.

“Traumatic events increase the likelihood that both genders could develop substance use disorders, though the association between early life trauma and the development of substance use disorders is stronger for women than men,” Dr. Brady said.

“That’s because neurobiologically, the stress-response systems of women with substance use disorders are more reactive than those of men,” she added. At the Abubaker lecture, she will share how understanding these differences and applying them to the development of tailored treatments is key.

VCU School of Medicine was a Launchpad

Dr. Brady, a distinguished university professor with more than 30 years of research experience, is director of the South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research Institute at the Medical University of South Carolina.

She is also founding director of the Southern Consortium Node of the NIDA-funded Clinical Trials Network, where she and her team have participated in 38 trials — including leading six of them — and are currently leading a multisite trial of a new therapeutic strategy called repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in the treatment of stimulant dependance.

Dr. Brady credits her time on the MCV Campus with sparking her interest in substance abuse disorder and neurobiologic studies and teaching her to think and write scientifically.

She also learned the value of relationships, of being a good mentor and colleague. Much of that came from working with VCU’s Robert Balster, Ph.D., the Luther A. Butler Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, whom Dr. Brady has described as a “brilliant scientist and very productive.”

Among her most acclaimed accomplishments is leading the charge to establish MUSC as a central node among the Clinical Trials Network. That network, established in 2000, was created to facilitate the delivery of scientifically based treatments to drug abuse patients.

At MUSC, Dr. Brady conducts clinical trials while promoting evidence-based treatments tailored around that research. She spent her career connecting the dots between psychiatric illnesses and the development of addictions. 

“Being part of the Clinical Trials Network has allowed my research group the opportunity to participate in a number of exciting, cutting-edge clinical trials,” she said. “Creating new therapies that target and treat the underlying neurobiological abnormalities can save lives.”

If you are interested in attending the lecture, or in viewing the recording after April 27, contact Michelle Brooks at 804-828-4134 or mbrooks25@vcu.edu.