Dr. Margaret Wardle
Dr. Margaret Wardle

Margaret Wardle, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, has received a Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The five-year $765,000 K08 award will support training and career development related to Wardle’s research on the neurobehavioral dysfunction called anhedonia – a lack of interest or pleasure in non-drug rewards, often seen in cocaine use disorder.

“Even the best treatments for cocaine use disorder have a 50 percent success rate so what’s the difference between those who can quit and those who can’t? Anhedonia is common across many addictions, as well as mood disorders,” Wardle said. “The first goal is to see if we can measure anhedonia at baseline.”

To do that, Wardle measures facial activity, known as psychophysiology, while the patient undergoes behavioral testing.

“The hypothesis is that those patients who have anhedonia won’t do as well in treatment. We think they don’t have enough dopamine and by slowly boosting the amount of dopamine in their brains through medication, it may boost the pleasure system enough for them to enjoy non-drug rewards again,” Wardle said. “We think it might give them another shot at being successful in treatment.”

Wardle’s primary mentor is Joy Schmitz, Ph.D., Louis A. Faillace, M.D., Professor and director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Research on Addictions at UTHealth. Co-mentors at UTHealth are Scott Lane, Ph.D., professor and vice-chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of research at the UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center; Ponnada A. Narayana, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Imaging; and Charles Green, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics. David Zald, Ph.D., professor of psychological sciences at Vanderbilt University, is also a co-mentor.

The NIDA is part of the National Institutes of Health.