Waggoner Center expands mission and transitions leadership team

September 1, 2017

New Research Opportunities

As attention to alcohol and substance use disorders increases and pursuit of new treatments continues, the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research begins a new chapter that expands its mission.  Originally an organized research center in the College of Natural Sciences focused on basic research, the center now also reports to the College of Pharmacy and Dell Medical School to take advantage of an opportunity to work with patients.  The new structure is effective Sept. 1, 2017.

The reorganization allows the center to conduct cutting-edge clinical studies.  The goal:  to lead the world in clinical trials for treatment of alcohol and substance use disorders.  In addition to seeking new drug treatments, the center will also explore the emerging field of electroceuticals, devices that stimulate neural pathways in the brain to reduce drug craving and seeking.  That research will likely involve collaboration with the Cockrell School of Engineering, the Department of Neuroscience in the College of Natural Sciences, and Dell Med’s Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Expansion of the center’s mission supports two of state Sen. Kirk Watson’s 10 Goals in 10 Years for transforming the health of the Austin community:  providing needed psychiatric care and facilities and developing laboratories and other facilities for public and private research.

Leadership Transition

Robert Messing, formerly Dell Medical School’s associate dean for research development, replaces longtime Waggoner Center Director Adron Harris, who led the center to prominence.  Harris remains with the center as its associate director, Messing’s former role.  It was the Waggoner Center’s reputation that helped persuade Messing to join UT Austin from his previous positions as vice president of Internal Affairs of the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco and a neurology professor at UCSF. A distinguished neuroscientist, he studies the molecular mechanisms involved in alcohol and substance use disorders.  His work has led to the discovery of drug targets that could lead to new treatments for these disorders.

Harris, a leading investigator of the molecular biology of alcohol and the neurobiology of alcohol use disorders, joined the university in 1999 as the center’s inaugural director. He is author or co-author of more than 350 papers on alcohol and the nervous system. He has received numerous honors, including the 2004 Jellinek Memorial Award, an international prize given each year to the scientist who has made the greatest contribution to the understanding of alcohol use disorder as a disease.

-Angela Curtis