Yale brain-imaging innovator wins Fulbright award for research in Israel

Evan D. Morris, PhD, associate professor of diagnostic radiology, of biomedical engineering, and of psychiatry, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to conduct research and teach next winter at Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

For the 2015-2016 academic year, the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program offered teaching, research, or combination awards to university faculty and administrators as well as professionals, artists, journalists, scientists, lawyers and independent scholars to go to more than 125 countries. According to the online database, since the 2010-11 academic year, there have been 12 Scholar Awards given to members of the Yale community, three in Medical sciences, but none to full-time ladder faculty. 

Morris will lecture in Israel on “Imaging Drugs in the Brain,” based on a course he offers at Yale. He will work to establish the PET (positron emission tomography) imaging analysis technology he invented and currently employs at the Yale PET Center to study the brain’s response to smoking cigarettes. 

Morris is using this new imaging analysis technology to create “dopamine movies” of the brain. He and his collaborator, Kelly Cosgrove, associate professor of psychiatry, of diagnostic radiology, and of neurobiology, recently discovered differences between male and female nicotine-dependent smokers in dopamine responses in the brain during cigarette smoking. These differences could explain why nicotine replacement therapy is preferentially effective in men trying to quit smoking compared to women. 

The next step for their research would be to study the brains of not-yet-addicted smokers. In the U.S., most new smokers are not yet 18 years old, and would not be admitted into a research study using PET imaging and radioactivity. So it would be difficult to recruit the necessary subjects. In Israel, however, all Israelis (men and women) are required to serve in the military, and many start smoking during that period and after age 18. This “natural experiment” represents a unique opportunity for investigating the early stages of smoking-dependence using the technology Morris pioneered.

Morris is co-director for imaging at the Yale PET Center. His work on the development of dopamine movies was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The title of his Fellowship award is, “Imaging Drugs in the Brain; New Technologies for Imaging the Brain’s Response to Cigarette Smoking.

Fulbright Scholar Fellowships are now being awarded for the 2015/2016 academic year. Morris will spend his triennial leave in Israel from December 2015 to March 2016. The Council for International Exchange of Scholars (www.cies.org) has administered the Fulbright Scholar Program since shortly after the establishment of the program by U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright in 1945. CIES has placed nearly 50,000 scholars in 140 countries.

This article was submitted by Shane Seger on February 2, 2015.