Orange Alert

Stephen Maisto gets five-year extension of NIH Senior Scientist Award

Grant enables professor to train next generation of substance abuse researchers

Nov. 12, 2013, by John Martin

Stephen Maisto
Stephen Maisto

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has once again selected Stephen Maisto, professor of psychology in The College of Arts and Sciences, for its Senior Scientist Research and Mentorship Award. Maisto's K05 grant is from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), one of the 27 institutes and centers that constitute NIH.

NAIAA has approved an additional five years of funding for Maisto’s work. K05 grants provide stability of support to outstanding scientists who have demonstrated a sustained, high level of productivity and whose expertise, research accomplishments and contributions to the field have been and will continue to be critical to the mission of the particular NIH center or institute.

These “career awards” are intended for people who have been investigators for a long time—senior faculty with a substantial track record of research—and teaching-related activities that is both transnational and international in scope.

“Throughout his career, Steve has made tremendous contributions to the field, with work that informs our understanding of how to optimize treatment for individuals struggling with alcohol use disorders,” says Peter A. Vanable, department chair in psychology. “This prestigious award from NIH provides funding for Steve to continue his programmatic research and to provide mentoring to up-and-coming researchers at SU and elsewhere.”

The funding is not for specific research, but rather, to allow Maisto to pursue research that interests him, which he described when applying for the grant. That research, of course, has to be judged to be important and a research priority for NIAAA.

“My primary goals are to advance my research programs in alcohol and other drug assessment and treatment methods and in alcohol treatment outcomes, process, clinical course and relapse,” Maisto says. “I will continue to explore statistical methods and techniques that may advance knowledge about alcohol treatment outcomes, mechanisms of treatment-related change and clinical course and relapse. I will also mentor junior investigators and postdoctoral fellows.”

That’s a key purpose of the grant—to give senior scientists time to train people in the field. NIAAA wants to groom the next generation of researchers focused on substance abuse. Maisto is expected to devote 30 percent of his time to mentoring, and he's excited about the opportunity—as are the mentees, most of whom are part of the SU academic community.

“I intend to maintain, on average, a cohort of four junior investigators and postdoctoral fellow mentees for each year of the award renewal period,” Maisto says. “The goal is to mentor them so they can secure their own funding and become independent investigators.”

One research area Maisto and his team will explore is the “therapeutic alliance”—the relationship between patient and therapist. “The therapeutic alliance is crucial to patient outcomes,” Maisto says. “We’re looking at giving the therapist feedback to see if that helps to improve patient outcomes. The assumption is that, if you give the feedback throughout the course of the alliance, and the therapist makes adjustments to how he or she relates to the patient, this will improve outcomes. We have developed ways to measure this alliance, and to define it by different dimensions and scores.”

Maisto will also research statistical methods and techniques. He explains: “If you chart a patient’s drinking over the course of a year, the line tends to be curvilinear, with a pattern of surges, stops and starts. Many of the statistical methods in this area of research assume a linear relationship, which doesn’t capture what is really happening with the patients.”

Maisto is consulting with biostatisticians across the country in an interdisciplinary effort to model and capture this knowledge and feed it back into treatment. The goal is to provide therapists with a better idea of what to expect, and highlight warning signs that can facilitate earlier intervention and better outcomes.

In addition to mentoring, Maisto will collaborate with colleagues at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, the VA Health Care Upstate New York network—composed of five VA medical centers and 29 community-based outpatient clinics, and with associates at other institutions across the United States.

Vanable sums it up best: “This competitive renewal extends Professor Maisto's many years of continuous funding from NIH, and is yet another marker of his contributions to the field as a leading scholar and distinguished scientist.”

Media Contact

Rob Enslin