Dr. Robert Balster receives CPDD Nathan B. Eddy Award

Dr Balster receives CPDD award 2009Dr. Robert Balster Receives Nathan B. Eddy Award from CPDD.

In June 2009, Robert Balster, Butler Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Director of the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies and Research Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry received the Nathan B. Eddy Award from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. The Award was given in Reno, Nevada at the annual scientific meeting of the CPDD. The Nathan B. Eddy Award is given once each year to honor lifetime contributions to drug abuse research. Dr. Balster was honored for his contributions to basic laboratory research in behavioral pharmacology, for his history of mentoring junior scientists and for his service to the field of addiction research.

Dr. Balster played a key role in the development of two widely used animal models for addictive behavior. The first is the drug discrimination procedure, where in 1968 he published the first study using operant behavior of animals to demonstrate discrimination of drug effects. This method has now been used in over 4,000 scientific publications worldwide as indexed in the Drug Discrimination Database. This is a model for the subjective experience of drug administration which has been used by Dr. Balster and many others to study the neural basis for drug intoxication. Dr. Balster was also among the pioneers in the use of intravenous drug self-administration procedures, a model in which animals voluntarily give themselves injection of drugs of abuse. This laboratory model for drug taking behavior is the cornerstone of behavioral pharmacology research in drug abuse. In addition, both drug discrimination and drug self-administration methods have been used widely for predicting the abuse potential of potential medications during their development, an area in which Dr. Balster is also an expert. Dr. Balster has applied these research approaches, and many others, to the study of two important classes of drugs of abuse, phencyclidine/ketamine-like drugs and abused inhalants. His work on these drugs have led to a better understanding of the nature of their behavioral effects, tolerance, dependence, and the brain mechanisms which are responsible for their abuse-related effects. In total, Dr. Balster has published over 300 scientific journal publications and book chapters, edited two books and two special issues of journals.

Dr. Balster is a well-regarded teacher and mentor. He has educated a great many pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellows who have gone on to become independent scientists and who have made very significant contributions in their own laboratories. Dr. Balster was the first person to receive the coveted Mentor Award from CPDD and later the NIDA International Award for Excellence in Mentoring. He also regularly receives teaching awards from students at VCU. He is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the International Programme in Addiction Studies, an online Master’s Degree program given by VCU, King’s College London and the University of Adelaide. He is the VCU Coordinator for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program in Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Policy, a U.S. State Department Fulbright Program bringing mid-career professionals from lower and middle income countries to the U.S. for a year of study and research.

In 1997, Dr. Balster founded the VCU Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies, for which he now serves as Director. This Institute has grown to over 45 faculty who conduct a broad range of research and training programs. These faculty attract over $20 million annually in grants and contracts. In addition to his leadership role with the Institute, Dr. Balster is also the Editor-in-Chief of one of the world’s leading addiction specialty journals, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a position he has held since 1998. He also served as a member of the Robert Wood Johnson Research Network on the Etiology of Tobacco Dependence, and, with Randy Koch, co-directs the Virginia Youth Tobacco Project, a statewide coalition of tobacco researchers. He has a long history of leadership in professional societies and on governmental advisory committees. A partial list includes being President of the CPDD and the Division of Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse of the American Psychological Association (APA), Chair of the FDA Drug Abuse Advisory Committee, Chair of an NIH Study Section, and a Member of the World Health Organization Expert Panel on Drug Dependence. He has served as Chair of the Board of Scientific Affairs of the APA and has now returned to the Board for another term of service as a member.

Dr. Balster has already received several awards. In addition to those already mentioned, he received the Brady-Schuster Award for lifetime contributions to behavioral pharmacology research from the Division of Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse of the American Psychological Association in 2007 and the 2006 Award for Distinguished Service to Psychological Science from APA as well.

Picture: Robert Balster receives Eddy Award from Sharon Walsh, President of CPDD, accompanied by one of his nominators, Louis Harris, who introduced him at the ceremony.