Current Pilot Projects

An Ethnographic Exploration of Opioid Agonist Treatment Barriers and Facilitators Among Opioid Users in Rural Nebraska

Led by Dr. Roberto AbadieUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln

Study Overview:

This project aims to collect ethnographic data on opioid users living in two rural communities in Nebraska to document behavioral and structural factors affecting barriers and facilitators to Opioid Agonist Treatment enrollment.

Specific Aims:

(Aim 1): To document opioid users’ experiences of the barriers they face to enroll in and adhere to Opioid Agonist Treatment as well as the resources they can draw upon to help them remain in the program.

(Aim 2): To apply an integrated knowledge-exchange approach with our target audiences (policy makers, public health, Opioid Agonist Treatment providers, and harm reduction practice communities in Nebraska), providing them with the knowledge and tools to implement evidence based strategies to improve recruitment and adherence of Opioid Agonist Treatment in rural populations.

Study Sample Population:

N=600 (the entire Rural Health Cohort Study sample; all individuals that have been selected in the cohort study who are 19 years old or older and who report using opioids at least once in the past 30 days will be eligible for inclusion, up to the enrollment tallies for each treatment state; since this study does not keep personal information linked to data regarding opioid use and Opioid Agonist Treatment access, we won’t know which participants in this large study will meet our eligibility criteria).

Unique Study Procedures:

None.

Long-Term Goals:

Understanding the individual and structural obstacles to Opioid Agonist Treatment participation in rural settings will contribute to evidence-based policies to improve Opioid Agonist Treatment access in relatively poorly served areas in the United States. By exploring the social determinants of Opioid Agonist Treatment access, this project fulfills the requirements of RFA-CE-19-002 Research Grants to Identify Effective Strategies for Opioid Overdose Prevention and is responsive to the NIH-wide mandate of improving minority health and reducing health disparities in the United States.


Photo of Roberto Abadie title=
Roberto Abadie

Dr. Roberto AbadiePROJECT Director

As a trained medical anthropologist, Dr. Abadie's research focuses on how different forms of social stratification, in particular, class, race, and ethnicity, contribute to produce and reproduce health inequalities in marginalized populations. He has conducted extensive fieldwork on the ethics of clinical trials, HIV risk, People Who Inject Drugs (PWID), and health disparities among Latino populations in a variety of settings in Latin America, the Caribbean and the US.

Full Roberto Abadie bio




Interpersonal Conflict and Drug Use in the Great Plains

Led by Dr. Robin GauthierUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln

Study Overview:

This project aims to create a dynamic multi-level network model that utilizes relationship characteristics and contextual factors to better understand the interpersonal context of rural drug use.

Specific Aims:

(Aim 1): Determine the associations between interpersonal conflict and frequency of drug use. Analyzing existing ego network data from a longitudinal cohort study of PWUD adults in the Great Plans, this project will a: Determine whether or not interpersonal conflict is more strongly related to frequent drug use when it is embedded in a particular type of relationship. b: Determine whether or not interpersonal conflict is more strongly related to frequent drug use when it is embedded in a particular relational context (i.e. drug use or friendship).

(Aim 2): Determine how social conflict (i.e. interpersonal conflict among drug-use partners and confidants) affects participants’ frequency of drug use. Aim 2 will expand the goals of Aim 1 to include data on the relationships between respondents’ drug-use partners and confidants. This extension will allow for assessing of conflict in the larger social context.

(Aim 3): Use cross-lagged panel analysis to examine the reciprocal relationships between conflict and drug use and their relationship with relational types, behavioral context and network context.

Unique Study Procedures:

None.

Long-Term Goals:

Understanding relational dynamics is crucial for the development of successful community intervention strategies targeting drug use behaviors in a social setting. These pilot results are expected to have tremendous translational impact by determining the factors most critical to target through prevention and intervention efforts.


Photo of Robin Gauthier title=
Robin Gauthier

Dr. Robin GauthierPROJECT Director

Dr. Gauthier's work shows how crucial relational processes are for answering pressing questions about health in a dynamic and changing world. Network theories share the fundamental premise that individual behaviors and outcomes cannot be fully understood without reference to the social context that facilitates and constrains access to risk, resources and support. She has applied this insight to several substantive problems including domestic violence support, epidemic potential, and intervention evaluation.

Full Robin Gauthier bio




Predictors of Sex-Linked Marijuana and Alcohol Use in Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Women

Led by Dr. Tierney LorenzUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln

Study Overview:

This project aims to research how individual differences in sexual response may contribute to sexual minority women’s risk for substance use and misuse.

Specific Aims:

(Aim 1): Develop a novel behavioral measure of sexual reward value.

(Aim 2): Test if sexual response predicts differences in sex-linked substance use in exclusively heterosexual vs. mostly heterosexual women.

Study Sample Population:

N=105 (young adult women grouped by sexual orientation, N=35 exclusively heterosexual/mostly heterosexual/bisexual).

Unique Study Procedures:

This project will use several psychophysiological measures of women’s arousal and reward processing, including vaginal photoplethysmography and heart rate variability.

Long-Term Goals:

This project will have significant impacts on the field. First, it will create a new tool for researchers to assess individual differences in sexual reward value, using behavioral testing. Second, it will create an open access database on substance use risk factors among sexual minority women. Lastly, results from these aims will provide critical pilot data that will support future studies of sex-specific etiology and mechanisms of substance abuse among MHW women.


Photo of Tierney Lorenz title=
Tierney Lorenz

Dr. Tierney LorenzPROJECT Director

Dr. Lorenz is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department and Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her lab, the Women, Immunity and Sexual Health (WISH) lab, examines the interaction between women's mental, physical and sexual health, including the ways that sexual behavior impacts women's immune and endocrine function, as well as ways to help women with mental and/or physical health conditions have happy, healthy sexual lives.

Full Tierney Lorenz bio




Cocaine-Mediated Microglial Activation Involves Epigenetic Dysregulation of DNMT1/INCRNA XIST/PPARG Signaling Axis

Led by Dr. Palsamy PeriyasamyUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln

Study Overview:

This project aims to research whether cocaine activates the microglia via lncRNA Xist-DNMT1-mediated epigenetic promoter DNA hypermethylation of PPARG, thereby resulting in elevated secretion of proinflammatory cytokines.

Specific Aims:

(Aim 1): To determine the epigenetic mechanism(s) underlying cocaine-mediated microglial activation in vitro.

(Aim 2): To validate the epigenetic mechanism(s) underlying cocaine-mediated microglial activation in vivo.

Study Sample Population:

N=20 (pregnant C57BI/6 wild-type mouse dams - and their newborn pups); N=48 (C57BL/6 wild-type mouse, 8-weeks-old).

Unique Study Procedures:

None.

Long-Term Goals:

Findings from this proposal will provide evidence that noncoding RNAs and epigenetic mechanisms play critical roles in the cocaine abuse-mediated neuroinflammation. Also, the proposal outcome will provide robust preliminary data for the successful submission of an R01 grant in early 2022. Understanding the mechanisms responsible for microglial activation induced by cocaine will set the stage for the future development of novel therapeutic targets aimed at dampening the neuroinflammatory responses caused by drug addiction.


Photo of Palsamy Periyasamy title=
Palsamy Periyasamy

Dr. Palsamy PeriyasamyPROJECT Director

Dr. Palsamy Periyasamy is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience, UNMC. His long-term goal is to investigate the epigenetic changes that occurred during HIV-1 infection and drug abuse leading to glial cell activation and to identify potential therapeutic strategies for HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND) treatment.

Full Palsamy Periyasamy bio