Diaz-Granados, who earned his PhD in behavioral neuroscience from the University of Texas at Austin, has long been researching the lasting effects of alcohol exposure to adolescents.
Using a murine (mouse) model, subjects chronically exposed to alcohol become dependent and suffered from withdrawal when the substance is no longer available, Diaz-Granados says. When the mouse is administered taurine - either prior to alcohol exposure or during withdrawal - the severity of the withdrawal symptoms is lessened significantly, he says.
"Taurine seems to have some neuroinhibitory effects, which may be one of the reasons why it may alleviate seizures," he says.
"Looking at taurine was a bit of a departure from our normal research program," says Diaz-Granados, who credited the discovery of taurine's potential in 2002 to then-graduate student André Zalud, now a PhD candidate in biomedical studies. Zalud brought his hypothesis to Diaz-Granados and the two men began research on a small scale, leading to the FRIP award. Zalud has developed the methodology "and brought a whole new area of research to the laboratory," Diaz-Granados says.
Zalud, (BS '99, MS '02), says being in the "research trenches" is challenging, yet fulfilling.
"Research discovery lies at the heart of scientific investigations, and for most, drives a researcher to work countless hours for the possibility of advancing our knowledge and benefiting human health," says Zalud, who expects to complete the PhD program in 2007. "I feel most fortunate in this regard, especially since taurine could provide a very simple solution to otherwise complicated health problems."
Currently, neurochemical measures are taken from the mice only two times - during "hour zero," when the animal first comes off the alcohol and "hour 24," when all the alcohol is out of the system and the animal has experienced the withdrawal syndrome, Diaz-Granados says.
"It would be nice to know what's going on during withdrawal. Further exploring the time course is one place we need to go next."
He expects to apply for additional funding from the NIAAA. "This work was funded by a Developmental and Exploratory NIAAA grant and is just the first best guess," he says.
"The benefit of investigating the ameliorative effects of taurine on the consequences of chronic alcohol exposure is twofold," he says. "One, it will reveal new knowledge regarding the actions of alcohol, and two, it could lead to a new mechanism by which to treat the negative effects of alcohol abuse."