Conway Receives Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award

Published on 30 September 2021

Sineadh Conway, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Clinical Pharmacology in the Al-Hasani Lab, was a recipient of the Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The selective postdoctoral training grant is presented annually to postdoctoral candidates with the potential to become productive, independent investigators in scientific health-related research fields relevant to the missions of various NIH Institutes and Centers.

Conway was awarded a three-year grant from the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse to further her work to develop technology to monitor opioid peptides in vivo, and study the interaction between the neuropeptide dynorphin and the neurotransmitter dopamine during fentanyl exposure.

“In graduate school, I studied drug reward in the context of dopamine signaling,” said Conway. “Dopamine is released when your brain is expecting a reward, and while studying dopamine signaling I became interested in how brain reward related to opioids can become a negative reinforcement signal where opioid users no longer enjoy the drug, but use it to alleviate a negative feeling. This negative affect is largely contributed to the opioid peptide dynorphin, which I’m currently working to monitor in mouse models.”

Opioid peptides bind to opioid receptors in the brain and can mimic the effects of opiates and opioids. During her time at the Center for Clinical Pharmacology, Conway has been working to create an electrochemical technique to detect opioid peptides in real time so they can be monitored in mouse models during behavior, allowing researchers to characterize what opioid peptides are doing in various scenarios like drug exposure and withdrawal.

“The opioid peptide dynorphin is involved in pain, addiction and mood regulation,” noted Conway. “Our lab is interested in understanding the role of opioid peptides in addiction. In addition, we are examining how these peptides play a role in more natural rewards such as food and eating behavior in different motivational states which may lead to a better understanding as to how opioid peptides control feeding behaviors and may contribute to obesity."

Conway is currently working to gather data to publish research on her novel opioid peptide detection technique by year’s end, and once the research is published, she plans to begin applying the technique to examine how dynorphin is released during fentanyl exposure in mice.

“I’m so grateful to the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse for this award,” said Conway. “The grant marks my first time applying for my own personal funding, and this funding will lay the groundwork for my future work beyond my postdoctoral career. I’m excited to continue to engage in research that may lead to a better understanding of the opioid epidemic and an eventual new clinical target for fentanyl addiction.”

Established in 2015, the Center for Clinical Pharmacology is a partnership between University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis and the Department of Anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The center continues to diversify with faculty investigators currently engaged a variety of diverse research areas. Read more about the Center for Clinical Pharmacology.

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