For many, nicotine gum or the patch has tipped the balance in the struggle to quit smoking. Others try hypnosis or break the habit cold turkey. But for a significant subgroup of smokers who would like to stop, nothing seems to work. Yale researchers recently received a $10 million grant to find out why.

The grant, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Cancer Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is part of a five-year, $84 million nationwide plan to create tobacco research centers around the country in an effort to reduce tobacco use. Six other institutions have been awarded grants.

The new Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center at Yale, led by Stephanie O’Malley, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, will undertake five research projects. “The goal of our center is to improve tobacco addiction treatment by studying why current treatments fail and developing new behavioral and drug treatments that address these factors,” said O’Malley. The Yale studies will focus on three groups who are giving up smoking at a slower rate than the nation as a whole: female smokers, smokers with depression and smokers who drink heavily.

Robert B. Innis, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and pharmacology, will use PET and SPECT imaging to improve understanding of brain systems altered by smoking. Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, will study behavioral, biochemical and endocrine responses that follow smoking cessation. Peter Salovey, Ph.D., professor of psychology and of epidemiology and public health and in the Cancer Center, will compare the effectiveness of anti-smoking messages that emphasize the benefits of quitting and those that emphasize the risks of not quitting. Marina R. Picciotto, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and pharmacology, will study the biological bases of depression, heavy drinking and female gender in resistance to smoking cessation. O’Malley will expand on previous studies that suggest that the drug naltrexone, used for alcohol dependence, may also help smokers quit when combined with a nicotine patch. “It is critically important that more effective smoking cessation treatments be developed,” O’Malley said, “because most smokers try to quit only once every three to four years.”