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University of Utah announces major funding for new addiction treatment research

Media Contact:

Lexi McCausland
Communications Manager
University of Utah Health Plans

Salt Lake City (April 10, 2024) - Worldwide, someone dies from drug or alcohol addiction every four minutes. Now, researchers at Huntsman Mental Health Institute at the University of Utah have been selected by Wellcome Leap to research a new treatment for substance use disorder as part of a $50 million commitment to develop innovative treatments.

Dr.'s Mickey, Kubanek, Webb, Garland, Jawish, Koppelmans, and Riis

Brian J. Mickey, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Huntsman Mental Health Institute (pictured top left), will lead the team of investigators with expertise in psychiatry, biomedical engineering, neuroscience, radiology, and social work to research a new, noninvasive treatment for addiction. Co-principal investigators include Jan Kubanek, PhD, (pictured top center), and Taylor Webb, PhD (pictured top right); co-investigators include (from left to right) Eric Garland, PhD, LCSW; Rana Jawish, MD; Vincent Koppelmans, PhD; and Tom Riis, PhD.

The research will be funded by the Untangling Addiction program, which is a $50 million program founded by Wellcome Leap, to develop scalable measures to assess addiction susceptibility, quantify the risks stemming from addiction, and develop innovative treatments.  

“Substance use disorder is a significant global health problem, and yet the treatment options are limited,” Mickey said.  “We’re developing a non-invasive intervention for preventing and treating addiction, chronic pain, and depression. This funding will help us validate and generate the data to support the next critical step: an efficacy trial to determine the effectiveness of the intervention.”

Mickey’s team will use a novel ultrasound-based device to modulate deep brain regions and behaviors associated with opioid addiction. The goal will be to ultimately develop this approach into an individually targeted therapeutic intervention for a range of addictions.

“Addictions are brain illnesses that have enormous negative impact on individuals, families, and society,” Mickey said. “A major reason that addictions have been difficult to prevent—and treat—is that they are driven by dysfunction of deep brain regions that are challenging to access. Many psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, and addiction are caused by malfunction of brain circuits. This project is an example of our mission to understand how these neural circuits are dysregulated and to develop novel, circuit-targeted interventions that return the brain to a healthy state.”

"We are proud to bring Wellcome Leap's innovative problem-solving and funding approach to our research enterprise at the University of Utah," said Taylor Randall, President, University of Utah. "To have our mental health researchers contributing to pioneering work on addiction treatment reaffirms our commitment to improving lives through discovery."

“What makes research like this so impactful is that it brings together a variety of disciplines to help solve complex problems in mental health,” said Mark Hyman Rapaport, MD, CEO of Huntsman Mental Health Institute. “This is particularly timely news given the groundbreaking of a new translational research building on campus focused on mental health and the brain. Our nation is in a mental health crisis, but there is hope if we can think differently and work together to change this trajectory.”

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About Huntsman Mental Health Institute

Huntsman Mental Health Institute at University of Utah Health brings together 75 years of patient care, research, and education into one of the nation's leading academic medical centers focused on mental health. Nestled in the campus of University of Utah, Huntsman Mental Health Institute serves the community with 1,600 faculty and staff in 20 locations providing inpatient and outpatient services for youth, teens, and adults as well as a comprehensive crisis care model which includes the nationally recognized SafeUT app and the 988 Crisis hotline for Utah. Our mission is to advance mental health knowledge, hope, and healing for all. Learn more at: and join the conversation on InstagramFacebookTikTokX and LinkedIn.