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[November 30, 2009]

SUNY Downstate’s $35 Million Grant on Genetics of Alcoholism is Renewed:

Multi-site Grant is Headquartered in Brooklyn   

The Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA), a multisite, multidisciplinary national project involving nine institutions and headquartered at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, has been renewed for another five years. The study, which received a priority score in the outstanding range – 121, was funded at a total of $35,899,237 for the full five-year period.  Bernice Porjesz, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the Henri Begleiter Neurodynamics Laboratory at SUNY Downstate, is the lead principal investigator of COGA, and has been involved in the study since its inception.

COGA has been funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) since 1989, with some co-funding more recently by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). The goal of COGA is to localize, identify, and characterize genes influencing a predisposition to develop alcoholism and related disorders at multiple levels, from molecular and cellular to neurophysiological and behavioral.

Over the years, the COGA investigators have assembled more than 1857 extended families affected by alcoholism, consisting of more than 15,000 individuals, many assessed multiple times. The researchers have established a comprehensive archival database from these families, consisting of extensive assessments in multiple domains, including clinical, neuropsychological, electrophysiological, and genetic data, and have established a repository of cell lines to serve as a permanent source of DNA for genetic studies.

Genetic analyses in COGA have yielded several important findings, such as the finding that a gene involved in neural excitability is also involved in the predisposition to develop alcohol dependence and related disorders (externalizing disorders such as drug dependence and conduct disorder) – a finding that has since been replicated by numerous laboratories throughout the world.

A major aspect of the grant’s renewal is to continue a prospective study of offspring from COGA families to examine how genetic variation influences risk for or protection from alcoholism as a function of development, focusing on offspring with high-risk and low-risk genotypes during adolescence and young adulthood.

The grant renewal builds on the work of the late Henri Begleiter, PhD, distinguished professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, founder and principal investigator of COGA from its inception, who was the first to define the role that genetics plays in alcoholism and whose research redefined medical science’s view of the condition.

In addition to SUNY Downstate, the COGA sites currently include the University of Connecticut; Indiana University; University of Iowa; Washington University in St. Louis; University of California at San Diego; Rutgers University; the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas; and Virginia Commonwealth University. 


SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks ninth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.