Mark Britton, a Ph.D. student mentored by Dr. Robert Cook, was selected to receive a UF Graduate Student Council travel award for his attendance at the Research Society on Alcohol Annual Meeting. He presented a poster for his study entitled “Pre-Intervention Drinks/Month and HIV Serostatus Interactively Predict Memory Change After 30-Day Alcohol Contingency Management.” This event took place in Bellevue, Washington, on June 24-28, 2023. Britton is mentored by Dr. Robert Cook.
What is one thing you learned during your time there? “One of the most thought-provoking talks I attended at the Research Society on Alcohol meeting examined the relationship between standard drinks/week at the time of assessment and global brain volume in approximately 32,000 structural MRI scans in the UK Biobank repository. The researchers identified an apparent inverse association between alcohol consumption greater than 7 drinks/week and global brain volume in UK adults over 40. This talk was an interesting example of population neuroscience: applying epidemiological approaches to understand a brain structure/function outcome. Were I to do a follow-up analysis, I’d be very interested in applying techniques of formal causal inference to this question: for instance, I’d anticipate that greater predisposition to risky behavior, history of prolonged stress, or neighborhood-level indices of deprivation might positively confound the observed association between alcohol use and brain volume after age 40. While alcohol use is traditionally understood to drive gray matter shrinkage, I’d also be curious about the temporality of the observed effect: cross-sectional gray matter deficit or longitudinal atrophy (especially in frontal regions associated with executive control) might lead in some individuals to riskier drinking behavior. Finally, I’d want to investigate whether individuals at the extremes of alcohol exposure (e.g., current very heavy drinkers, sick quitters, and never-users) are adequately represented in the UK Biobank cohort. Overall, this was a fascinating talk that gave me a lot to consider.”