First-of-its-kind undertaking to study genetic, biological factors that contribute to development of opioid use disorder

The Coriell Institute for Medical Research, Cooper University Health Care and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) are launching the Camden Opioid Research Initiative (CORI), a first-of-its-kind undertaking to investigate the genetic and biological factors that contribute to the development of opioid use disorder (also referred to as opioid dependence or addiction). Opioid overdoses continue to climb in New Jersey and nationally and the opioid addiction epidemic is one of the most urgent public health concerns of our time. This year is the deadliest year of this epidemic in the Garden State.

CORI will capitalize on Coriell's expertise in genomics, biobanking and personalized medicine, Cooper University Health Care's clinical infrastructure and expertise in treating opioid use disorder (OUD) patients, and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University's reputation for scientific excellence in genetics, the neurosciences and addiction research. This combination of expertise promises to bolster the foundation of addiction genomics and provide a unique resource to researchers across the nation. Each of the CORI institutions is on the front lines of this battle and sees firsthand the impact OUD has on New Jersey and its citizens.

"Scientifically and geographically, this team is uniquely well positioned to undertake this effort. This investment in our state's future speaks to the foresight and vision of the elected leaders of New Jersey and to the innovative scientists and physicians at these Camden institutions," said Alissa Resch, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer at the Coriell Institute. "The knowledge gleaned from this work has the potential to save New Jersey families from the tragedy of opioid use disorder."

"As the leading academic tertiary care health system and the only Level I Trauma Center in southern New Jersey, Cooper's emergency department physicians see the destructive effects of the opioid crisis every day," said Anthony J. Mazzarelli, M.D., J.D., M.B.E., Co-President Cooper University Health Care. "While Cooper has designed innovative clinical programs to combat opioid addiction, we believe this research will lead to the development of new weapons to aid our clinicians in the fight against this costly epidemic."

Dr. Annette Reboli, dean of CMSRU, said, "Like the rest of the nation, New Jersey faces an opioid crisis. This initiative has the potential to define risk factors for opioid addiction and develop strategies to prevent people from developing opioid use disorder and to thereby save lives. This collaboration is perhaps one of the most important we could undertake for the health of so many at-risk individuals."

CORI will use a three-pronged approach to its research. With the help of the county and state medical examiner's office, a novel biobank of biological samples will be established and made available to qualified researchers studying opioid use disorder. These de-identified samples will be collected from individuals who have died as a result of overdose.

The CORI team also has established a pair of studies to investigate the genetic and non-genetic factors that underlie opioid use disorder.

The first study will focus on chronic pain patients. Participants enrolled in the study will have their DNA sequenced and will complete questionnaires about their health history. Using these data, CORI researchers will prepare reports for the participants' physicians, detailing how their patients' genetic makeup may influence their response to common opioids.

The second study will enroll patients currently participating in Cooper's Addiction Medicine program who are receiving medication-assisted treatment for addiction. Medication-assisted treatment has proven to be a successful treatment for many patients and involves the supervised use of medications such as methadone, naltrexone or buprenorphine to treat OUD. This prospective research will analyze any common genetic signatures for patients who successfully achieve recovery and those who do not. It also will help determine which drug might be best suited for an individual's medication-assisted treatment.

Alissa Resch, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer at the Coriell Institute; Louis Bezich, M.B.A., senior vice president of Strategic Alliances at Cooper University Health Care; and Annette Reboli, M.D., dean of CMSRU, are the principals of the project. Stefan Zajic, Ph.D., a principal research scientist at Coriell, is the scientific lead for the project.

Funded through a three-year grant from the State of New Jersey, the CORI project will position New Jersey at the forefront of the effort to treat opioid use disorder and prevent overdose deaths. This initiative was the vision of Coriell's late president and CEO, Michael F. Christman, Ph.D., who passed away at the end of 2017, before it came to fruition. Dr. Christman was highly regarded for his forward-thinking approach to personalized medicine and the promise it held for patient care.

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