There are already many studies that show the damage alcohol has on the brain; however, very little research has been done on what happens in the brain when an alcoholic stops drinking. The University of Alberta is part of an international study that uses a magnetic resonance imaging scanner to take images of the brains of newly sober patients to see what happens to the brain during recovery.
The TRANSALC project takes patients in rehabilitation centres, such as the Henwood Treatment Centre, and performs two MRIs: one soon after the individual stops drinking and one a few months later. The images are compared to look for signs of how the neural network mends itself during this recovery period. The goal of this research is to be able to develop personalized treatment and medication for those with alcohol abuse problems.
Kirk Hawkkensen, one of Henwood’s patients who participated in the TRANSALC project describes his alcoholism as a battle he is going to have for the rest of his life. “One of the reasons I really wanted to get in [was] because those guys are very, very smart, and the more they know about it, the more they can help people dealing with this issue.”
Finding suitable candidates has been a bit of an issue for the project, as alcohol had to be the only substance used and the patients had to be free of any sort of metal.
“It took a while to get all of the people they wanted,” says the clinical supervisor at Henwood, Jasmine Fulks, “the way that alcoholism and drug use has shifted, we see more polysubstance users.”
The University of Alberta researchers are the only North American contributors to the international collaboration, with research going on in Germany, Finland and Spain.