Working to solve the puzzle that is drug addiction: ASU neuroscientist Foster Olive promoted to full professor

June 8, 2018

Drug addiction is complex, and Arizona State University neuroscientist Foster Olive has spent his career working to unravel why and how the brain becomes addicted to drugs.

The ASU Department of Psychology recently promoted Olive from associate professor to full professor because of his research efforts. Foster Olive, professor of psychology Foster Olive, professor of psychology at ASU. Photo by Robert Ewing Download Full Image

A feel-good piece of the drug addiction puzzle

Olive runs the Addiction Neuroscience Lab at ASU. His interest in drug addiction began when he was in graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA, he spent some time working in a lab that studied how morphine affected endorphins in the brain, and he was fascinated by how endorphins might contribute to drug addiction.

“Endorphins do not receive as much attention as other neuromodulatory systems that are involved in drug addiction, like dopamine,” Olive said. “But, they play an important role in addiction and recovery.”

Endorphins are chemicals made by the nervous system that block pain and create good feelings. Exercise and laughter cause endorphins to be released, but opiate drugs like heroin also work on the same neuronal systems.

Olive recently received a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how alcohol activates the endorphin system in the brain. This particular NIH grant program was motivated by the finding that naltrexone, an endorphin-blocking drug that is well-known for its capability to reverse opiate overdoses, is also effective at treating alcoholism.

To test how alcohol affects the brain’s endorphin system, Olive and his team use special animals who have endorphin neurons that literally light up, or fluoresce, when the neurons become active. The researchers can measure how the endorphin system responds to alcohol. Currently, they are focusing on an area of the brain called the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a “clearing house” in the brain, and neurons in this area are involved in wide-ranging processes like control of body temperature, hunger, thirst sleep and emotions.

“Once we identify a region or circuit in the brain that is affected by alcohol, we can start to figure out how to dampen the effect of alcohol without interfering with other functions,” Olive said.

A social piece of the addiction puzzle

The Addiction Neuroscience Lab also focuses on how social relationships affect drug addiction.

“Opiate addicts are known to isolate themselves, and strong relationships are known to be protective and helpful for recovery,” Olive said. “Social effects are only partially understood in addiction research but are a very important area.”

Olive and his graduate student Seven Tomek recently published a paper in Addiction Biology that examined how the opiate heroin affected prosocial behavior in an animal model. The study looked at what happened when animals were given a choice between sugar pellets and rescuing a trapped animal or between heroin and rescuing the trapped animal. The researchers found that the animals who received sugar pellets kept rescuing the trapped animals. The animals who received heroin completely stopped rescuing. This study could lead to a possible mechanism for dysfunctional social behavior in opiate addicts or to improved treatments for opiate addiction.

West to east, and back again

Olive’s path to Tempe started in California and went through South Carolina. After earning his doctorate at UCLA, Olive completed two postdoctoral fellowships: one at Stanford University and a second at the University of California, San Francisco. He worked for five years at the Medical University of South Carolina before moving back west. Olive joined the ASU Department of Psychology in 2010.

“Foster Olive is an extremely productive researcher of how drugs of abuse create dependence and addiction; his work is theoretically thoughtful and sophisticated, methodologically innovative, and highly influential in the field. Indeed, he is a leading scholar, nationally and internationally,” said Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor of psychology and department chair. “He is also an excellent, dedicated teacher and mentor, and goes far beyond the call with his service to the discipline, the department and university, and the broader community. The Department of Psychology and ASU are significantly stronger because of Professor Olive.”

[video: autoplay:0]

Science writer, Psychology Department


ASU Enterprise Partners makes Top Companies to Work For list

CEO R.F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr. discusses the importance of corporate culture

June 8, 2018

ASU Enterprise Partners has been named a Top Company to Work for in Arizona by the Arizona Republic for the fifth year in a row.

ASU Enterprise Partners’ mission is to advance the success of Arizona State University. It raises resources to benefit students, researchers and programs contributing to ASU’s impact in the world.   sparky with a fan Download Full Image

To learn more about what makes ASU Enterprise Partners a top company, ASU Now turned to ASU Enterprise Partners’ President and CEO R.F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr. to discuss the importance of corporate culture.

Question: How do you define corporate culture?

Answer: Corporate culture is an interesting term. People throw it around a lot and sometimes it is hard to define. It’s the intangible part of an organization. It’s about mindset. It’s about how people interact with each other. It’s about values. It’s about principles. It’s about all the things that you really can’t get your arms around but are still important to a successful, functioning organization. To define our culture, I look at some of our values. We innovate. We certainly have this concept to be innovative and entrepreneurial in what we do. We engage. We communicate effectively with people. We serve. We are a service organization. And, finally, we care. All of our other core values roll up into us caring about our colleagues, caring about donors and caring about the folks that we surround ourselves with. I do think we live those values here at ASU Enterprise Partners. They’ve become embedded in our culture.

Q: What are a few things you have done to help create a culture that employees love?

A: Creating culture, too, is hard because it’s not something that you can just dictate saying, "Here’s a culture." But, there are some fun things we do here. We give people their birthday off, which, I think, sends a signal to the organization that it’s important to enjoy yourself and have fun. We have "You Rock" cards, which allow employees to recognize their colleagues for their hard work. Every time I get a "You Rock" card, it puts a smile on my face; I know that it must put a smile on somebody else’s face when they get one. We do a lot of fun events around the holidays, such as parties or contests. We’ve had chili-tasting contests, pumpkin-carving contests and salsa-making contests, to name a few. I think these contests bring the team together and put a little competitive spirit in our teams by doing something fun. These fun things we do send a signal that work is supposed to be productive but it's also supposed to be fun.

Q: How do you promote diversity and inclusion?

A: Diversity and inclusion really starts with myself, making it clear that I think it’s important to have diverse points of view and that we need to be inclusive of others no matter what their backgrounds are. We always work hard to make sure we bring diversity into the workplace. As we promote and then hire, we need to have that as an explicit part of our consideration in the way that we think through those decisions. We also need to make sure that we have a workplace where, in the workplace itself, people are accepting of diversity and inclusion. When they’re not inclusive, we immediately stop and say, "Timeout, that’s not acceptable in our organization." So, while we can always improve on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, I think we have the right mindset and mentality around it and now it’s a matter of continuing to execute on it.

Director of Media and Public Relations, ASU Enterprise Partners