By Elise Coby
At High Point University, undergraduate research with student-faculty collaboration promotes unique and scholarly experiences for many students. These collaborations foster new experiences for students involved in science and develop critical thinking among hands-on research with the assistance of faculty-influenced knowledge. Among these opportunities is the addiction treatment work of Dr. Comfort Boateng, assistant professor of basic pharmaceutical sciences at HPU.
Boateng and her students are immersed in the research and development of a potential treatment medication for drug abuse and other neurological disorders. Specifically, they are focused on cocaine and how the stimulant creates a dependency. Her research entails the design, synthesis and pharmacological evaluation of compounds that act in the brain. She sees these as molecular tools that lead toward potential treatment medications.
“My research is dedicated to the long-term goal of putting a pill into a bottle for a cocaine abuser to take that will take away the urge to abuse and allow that person to function productively once again within their local world and within society as a whole,” Boateng said.
Research such as Boateng’s is crucial to today’s society, as addiction is a serious disorder. According to data from drugabuse.gov, 67,300 Americans died from drug abuse in 2018, with 46,802 of those deaths involving opioids.
Boateng discussed addiction behavior and the many substances people are drawn to that enhance this perpetual behavior.
“Addiction is a chronically relapsing disorder characterized by persistent drug-taking behavior despite serious and negative consequences,” Boateng said. “There are many substances that people abuse in today’s world: opioids, benzodiazepines, cannabis, stimulants, ketamine and cocaine, the last of which is among the commonly abused drugs. Boateng explained that approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. reported recently using cocaine.
Boateng described the ongoing impact substance abuse has and how the crime, work productivity and health care costs harm the country.
“Even though we don’t like to talk about substance abuse out loud, the entire area of drug abuse impacts our population and is estimated to cost more than $740 billion annually to our society,” Boateng said.
“Probably everyone who reads this is aware of some impact on a close friend or perhaps even in their own family. The most public demonstration that we see is when Hollywood actors or musicians go the path of substance abuse and ruin their careers and destroy their families.” While the humanitarian aspects of the project are important, investigating cocaine addiction also appealed to the knowledge-seeking part of Boateng and her students.
“Our goal is to discover a treatment for cocaine abuse,” Boateng said. “But from a science perspective, we will gain insight into the most remarkable organ in the human body — the brain. We have so much to learn about how the brain controls variable feelings such as desire, motivation, pleasure and pain, all of which lead to substance abuse.”
Boateng said that she was inspired to work for the betterment of others in part by great figures of the past, like Mahatma Gandhi and other people often celebrated by HPU.
“Helping people in need is at the heart of what I do at HPU,” Boateng said. “I feel it in my heart every time I walk into my research lab.”
For further questions or information about this research, Boateng can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.