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Emory Neuroscientist Receives Lifetime Achievement Award for Drug Dependence Research

June 16, 2011

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Lisa Newbern, 404-727-7709,

Michael J. Kuhar, PhD, received the Nathan B. Eddy Memorial Award from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) at the CPDD’s 73rd annual meeting in Hollywood, Fla. The award, given Sunday, June 19, honors lifetime achievements in research that have advanced the understanding of drug dependence.

Kuhar pioneered now widely used techniques that allow researchers to see where drugs are acting within the brain. At Johns Hopkins University in the 1970s, he first developed autoradiography and then PET (positron emission tomography) as methods to visualize drug and neurotransmitter receptors.

Kuhar came to Emory in 1995 to serve as chief of neuroscience at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, a role he held for 15 years.  He is also a Candler Professor of Neuropharmacology at the Emory University School of Medicine and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar. From 1985 to 1995, he was chief of the neuroscience branch at the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Addiction Research Center in Baltimore.

In the 1980s, Kuhar and his colleagues discovered the initial site of action for the addictive properties of cocaine – the dopamine transporter. This led to many additional discoveries and is textbook knowledge in the field today.  Dr. Kuhar holds several patents, including one on a method for diagnosing Parkinson’s disease.

His laboratory’s current research focuses on CART (cocaine and amphetamine-regulated transcript), a peptide neurotransmitter that modulates the effects of cocaine and also has roles in anxiety, behavior, appetite and body weight. His team also studies the effects of early life stress on vulnerability to drug use.  Throughout his scientific career, Kuhar has received many prestigious awards recognizing his contributions.

In addition to his active research, teaching and training program, Kuhar participates in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, teaching Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns about neurotransmitters and drug addiction as part of a neuroscience course. He has traveled to India three times as part of this program.

“Mike Kuhar is well-deserving of this award,” says Stuart Zola, PhD, director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. “He has set the example for years and continues to be a leader in the field.  All of us at the Yerkes Research Center are proud of his accomplishments.”

Kuhar earned his PhD in 1970 in biophysics/pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University, working with Solomon Snyder. He did postdoctoral research on serotonin and LSD at Yale and returned to Johns Hopkins in 1972 where he rose to the rank of full professor.

He has trained more than 60 students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom hold important positions in academia, government and industry throughout the world.  In addition to his productivity and mentoring, he has been a leader in his field.  He was the first president of the International Drug Abuse Research Society and also was president of the CPDD. He has advised the federal government on drug abuse research and has testified before Congress.

For eight decades, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University has been dedicated to conducting essential basic science and translational research to advance scientific understanding and to improve the health and well-being of humans and nonhuman primates. Today, the center, as one of only eight National Institutes of Health–funded national primate research centers, provides leadership, training and resources to foster scientific creativity, collaboration and discoveries. Yerkes-based research is grounded in scientific integrity, expert knowledge, respect for colleagues, an open exchange of ideas and compassionate quality animal care.

Within the fields of microbiology and immunology, neurologic diseases, neuropharmacology, behavioral, cognitive and developmental neuroscience, and psychiatric disorders, the center’s research programs are seeking ways to: develop vaccines for infectious and noninfectious diseases; treat drug addiction; interpret brain activity through imaging; increase understanding of progressive illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; unlock the secrets of memory; determine how the interaction between genetics and society shape who we are; and advance knowledge about the evolutionary links between biology and behavior.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include the Emory University School of Medicine, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Rollins School of Public Health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. Emory Healthcare includes: The Emory Clinic, Emory-Children's Center, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Wesley Woods Center, and Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.5 billion budget, 17,600 employees, 2,500 full-time and 1,500 affiliated faculty, 4,700 students and trainees, and a $5.7 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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