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Published June 08, 2013, 11:30 PM

Fargo native gets noticed for drug addiction research

FARGO – A Fargo native is at the forefront of research that could someday lead to a breakthrough in the treatment of cocaine addiction.

FARGO – A Fargo native is at the forefront of research that could someday lead to a breakthrough in the treatment of cocaine addiction.

Ryan Bastle is a 2004 graduate of Fargo South High working toward a Ph.D. in neuroscience at Arizona State University.

Bastle said while he hasn’t been personally affected by addiction, he’s drawn to complex problems, and “addiction is definitely one of them.”

His research focuses on molecules known as microRNAs, which were discovered in the past couple of decades and appear to be the master regulators of gene expression, he said.

Bastle’s preliminary research findings show that one micro-RNA molecule in particular, miR-495, seems to be regulated by cocaine exposure.

As technology advances and scientists understand more about addiction, microRNAs could become targets of therapy aimed at treating addictive disorders, Bastle said.

“We’re still a long way off from using this information to try in patients, but as technology advances, this information will become vital,” he said in an interview via email.

His supervisor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, professor and neuroscientist Janet Neisewander, said in an ASU news release that his research is exciting because micro-RNAs can be thought of as the master regulators of signaling pathways in the brain.

“Cocaine-induced decrease in miR-495 may play a key role in pathological brain changes that give rise to addiction,” she said. “Until now, research has focused on one disrupted pathway at a time, but increasing miR-495 may provide means by which multiple abnormal circuits can be normalized simultaneously.”

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated in 2008 that nearly 1.4 million Americans had in the past 12 months met the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for dependence or abuse of cocaine, either in powder or crack form. Data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network that same year showed cocaine was involved in nearly one in four emergency room visits for drug misuse or abuse.

Bastle said the goals of addiction research are to find the factors that lead to addiction and help reverse the effects of drugs. What makes it interesting – and complicated – is that not everyone who tries drugs becomes addicted, he said.

Bastle, a swimmer and diver in high school who earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Minnesota Duluth and joined ASU in 2009, also is studying nicotine addiction in adolescents and researching the role of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin in drug reinforcement and motivation.

His research has earned him an invitation to present his preliminary findings at the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society’s conference June 25-30 in Dublin, Ireland.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “Not only to travel to a country I’ve never been, but this conference brings in people from all over the world who engage in very similar research. This will give me a chance to ‘learn from the pros.’ ”

Bastle said he hopes to receive his doctoral degree within the next couple of years and then seek a post-doctoral position at a reputable university or research institute and continue studying neuroscience.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528