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NIH Announces New Head of NIAAA After Several Years of Acting Director

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the appointment of George Koob of the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego as the new director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The agency has operated under an acting director for several years.

“As NIAAA director, Koob will oversee the institute’s $458 million budget, which primarily funds alcohol-related research in a wide range of scientific areas including genetics, neuroscience, epidemiology, prevention, and treatment,” according to a Scripps news release. “The institute also coordinates and collaborates with other research institutes and federal programs on alcohol-related issues and national, state, and local institutions, organizations, agencies, and programs engaged in alcohol-related work.”

Koob told Science magazine one of his goals as director of NIAAA will be to encourage research that examines commonalities between different forms of addiction. He said he has a long-standing scientific collaboration with National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow.

The NIH had been deciding whether to merge NIAAA with NIDA. It announced last November it would not pursue the merger. Some alcohol researchers at NIAAA were concerned their work would be overshadowed by NIDA’s broader focus, the magazine notes. Other researchers and administrators backed a merger, hoping it would lead to more efficient and coordinated research.

NIH Director Francis Collins said at the time that instead of dissolving the two institutes, he would seek their “functional integration,” along with related research in the NIH’s other institutes. Citing budget uncertainties, Collins noted, “The time, energy, and resources required for a major structural reorganization are not warranted, especially given that functional integration promises to achieve equivalent scientific and public health objectives.”

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