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Cultivating the Next Generation of Gambling Researchers

by: Christine Reilly | Aug 5, 2009

When the New Investigator category of our project grants program debuted in 2004, we sought to attract talented young researchers to the field of gambling studies. This year, with the award of a grant to Dr. Serena King of Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., the National Center for Responsible Gaming and the Institute for Research on Gambling Disorders have supported a total of five new investigators with more than $250,000 in project grants.

The New Investigator award category is modeled on the career development grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including the requirement to work with a senior scientist as a mentor. But this award is more than a training grant. Past recipients of this award have made significant contributions to the field. Dr. Catharine Winstanley at the University of British Columbia, whose groundbreaking research on animal models of gambling was published in the highly regarded journal Neuropsychopharmacology and featured in last month’s Issues & Insights, told me that the support “was invaluable to me in terms of getting my research program off the ground.” Other past New Investigator grantees, Drs. Shelly Flagel (University of Michigan) and Anna Goudriaan (University of Amsterdam) also have published their findings in competitive journals.

In addition to publishing in highly competitive journals, some have used the grant as seed money for support from the National Institutes of Health. I was very excited to learn that Dr. Silvia Martins, assistant scientist at the John Hopkins University School of Public Health, was recently awarded a grant from the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development for the expansion of the project, “Predictors of Pathological Gambling among African-American Young Adults,” for which she received a New Investigator grant in 2004.

King, our 2009 New Investigator grant recipient, is focusing her research project on one of the oldest questions in the field – why do some people develop a gambling disorder? It’s the type of fundamental issue that will not be resolved overnight. But King’s research represents a significant step forward. An assistant professor of psychology at Hamline University, King will work with mentor Dr. Ken Winters of the University of Minnesota to examine the roles that behavioral problems, genes and environment play in gambling behaviors from adolescence to young adulthood by reviewing data collected in the Minnesota Twin Family Study. King’s research will help fill a gap in the field as there has been little research to-date that specifically examines the developmental periods of adolescence to early adulthood and contribute insights that will help in the development of more effective screening and prevention strategies. As one of the peer reviewers for the New Investigator grant applications noted, “This developmental approach is important if we are to gain a foothold on understanding the precursors to pathological gambling.”

The need for more research regarding how and why people develop gambling disorders is echoed in the second project grant awarded by the Institute this year, this time in the Public Health category. In his research proposal, Dr. Adam Goodie of the University of Georgia argued there is little evidence to support the notion of a single “addictive personality,” but there is a great deal of evidence to support connections between specific personality traits and an increased likelihood of gambling problems. Goodie’s project will test whether certain personality types may have a direct, causal link to pathological gambling. The goal of the project is to improve understanding of the determining factors that contribute to the development of gambling disorders to help inform prevention and treatment of different kinds of disordered gamblers. The peer review panel convened by the Institute to review the public health research proposals praised Goodie’s project for its innovative approach, sophisticated statistical modeling procedures, and strong team of researchers.

Details about the 2009 grant recipients are available in our recent press release, as well as in the Project Grants section of the Web site. The Projects Grants section also provides information about past grant awards.

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