99-041 (Nicotine Dependence)
Distributed October 22, 1999
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Glenn Turner

New three-generation study at Brown to explain nicotine dependence

Researchers at Brown University will lead a new $11.9 million project, funded by the National Cancer Institute, that will study three generations of families to determine why people smoke.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A new study will collect evidence from three generations of families to determine what clan, childhood and lifetime factors govern smoking behavior.

Researchers in the Brown University Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine will lead the project. They received a five-year, $11.9-million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to conduct both a basic and applied study of smokers. The effort involves nearly 50 researchers at Brown, Harvard University and Yale University.

Their basic research will determine how families transmit nicotine dependence, particularly the genetic and environmental components of nicotine addiction. Their applied research will examine the value and usefulness of a smoking cessation program designed to break the generations-long cycle of nicotine addiction.

“By studying three generations, we want to learn the reasons why people smoke through the course of a lifespan, why some kids try it and grow out of it, and why others continue to smoke,” said David Abrams, the study’s principal investigator and the Center’s director. “We also want to describe the basic science of smoking, including how genes and environment interact to transmit susceptibility to becoming addicted to nicotine.”

Initial subjects for the project will come from 3,089 women enrolled in the ongoing National Collaborative Perinatal Project, conducted by Brown researchers, since 1959. The study will also follow children born to these women between 1959 and 1964, now between the ages of 34 and 40, and the children’s offspring, many of whom are in their teen-age years.

“To help us understand more deeply the vulnerability to smoking, for example, we’ll examine whether a pregnant women smoked and what affect that may have had on her developing fetus,” said Abrams, who is also a professor of psychiatry and human behavior.

The grant was one of seven awarded to academic institutions by the NCI and/or the National Institute on Drug Abuse to create Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation pledged additional funding to complement the efforts.

Tobacco use is the nation’s leading preventable cause of premature death. Tobacco-related disease causes more than 450,000 deaths each year, including 170,000 cancer deaths.

The Brown University Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, based at The Miriam Hospital, is part of the School of Medicine and a member of the Lifespan academic medical center.