The White House has announced that Jeremy J. Clark, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, is among this year’s recipients of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
According to information issued by the National Institutes of Health, “The National Science and Technology Council was commissioned by President Clinton in 1996 to recreate the award program to honor and support the extraordinary achievements of the finest scientists and engineers, who, while early in their research careers, show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge… The Presidential Award is considered to be one of the highest honors bestowed on scientists and engineering beginning their independent careers.”
Clark was recognized for his studies on the neurobiology of motivated behavior. He conducts such research to explore important public health concerns. His Presidential Early Career Award will support his investigations of the neural mechanisms of risk preference following adolescent alcohol use.
People often have their first experiences drinking alcohol as teenagers, and some do so during binges. Clark’s research project summary notes that these episodes can sometimes be the start of problem drinking, and have been associated with impaired decision-making. He also noted that studies in animal models of teen drinking suggest that alcohol exposure during this time of life can produce long-term difficulties in assessing risk when making choices.
“Adolescence is a critical period of maturation,” Clark wrote, “where brain development may be disrupted by alcohol use.” Clark plans to test several hypotheses on how teenage drinking might influence risk preference. Specifically, he added, chronic alcohol exposure during adolescence might alter the mesolimbic dopamine system, which has been linked to reward processing.
“An early age of onset of alcohol use appears to be linked to a vulnerability to drug abuse problems in adulthood,” Clark said. “We would like to understand how exposure in the teen years might lead to chronic alcoholism in adults.”
Clark earned a Ph.D. in psychology in 2006 from the UW, and the next year took a position as a postdoctoral fellow with Paul Phillips in the UW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Now on the UW medical school faculty, he is part of the Center for Drug Addiction Research.
He is the 11th faculty member at UW Medicine to receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers since the program started.