by Barbara Black
Gold Medal for 2000 will go to Suzanne Erb, a recent PhD in psychology,
and, like last years gold-medal winner, a student of Jane Stewart
at Concordias Centre for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology.
When Dr. Erb defended her thesis last February, the external examiner,
Terry E. Robinson, of the University of Michigan, wrote, In all
aspects, this is an outstanding thesis. Indeed, it is probably one of
the very best I have had the pleasure to read in my 22 years as a professor
at the University of Michigan. Ms. Erb, her mentor, Professor Stewart,
and Concordia have every reason to be proud.
The thesis was called Stress-Induced Relapse to Cocaine Seeking in
the Rat: Contributions of Central Nervous System Corticotropin Releasing
Factor and Noradrenaline.
My interest in psychology developed very early, Erb related
in an e-mail interview from the University of Michigan.
Throughout high school [in Waterloo, Ont.], I had spent a lot of
time working with mentally and physically challenged children and adults
in the community, and was enthusiastic about the prospect of a career
in community service.
In my first year of undergrad at Trent University, I took introductory
psychology and, much to my surprise, was completely enthralled by the
lectures and readings on the brain and behaviour and communication in
the central nervous system.
She transferred to Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, and was soon given
the opportunity to work as a summer research assistant. Her instructor,
Dr. Linda Parker, was doing behavioural work in rats, studying the reinforcing
and aversive properties of drugs of abuse. She spent three absorbing years
in Dr. Parkers lab.
I became very interested in the issue of drug-induced sensitization;
that is, the enhancement in the magnitude of drug-induced behaviours and
neurochemical events that occur with prior, repeated exposure to the drug.
This interest brought her to the lab of Jane Stewart here at Concordia
University, where she did her graduate work.
The work that I did for my dissertation relates directly to Dr.
Stewarts own work; it was done within the scope of her larger research
program on relapse and substance abuse.
I had a fantastic experience at Concordia, Erb said. I
feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to study and interact
with researchers at the CSBN who are nationally and internationally recognized.
In particular, the extraordinary training and guidance that I received
from Dr. Stewart has been pivotal in developing my thinking, not only
about issues relating directly to substance abuse, but also about issues
more generally relevant to our understanding of psychopathology, motivation,
This work may have important clinical implications. The findings
suggest that consideration of CRF and NE systems in medications development
for the treatment of addiction may be warranted.
In addition, the work that I did showing a dissociation between
the effects of CRF and NE on stress- and cocaine-induced relapse to cocaine
seeking suggests that the neuronal mechanisms underlying relapse induced
by stress and drug are not identical, and that, therefore, no single approach
to treatment, pharmacological or otherwise, is likely to be effective
in all circumstances.
Erb holds an NSERC postdoctoral research fellowship at the laboratory
of Dr. Huda Akil at the University of Michigan (Mental Health Institute,
School of Medicine).
She is enjoying Ann Arbor and her time at the Mental Health Research Institute
(MHRI). Next summer, however, she will move to Toronto to begin a tenure-track
position in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto,
in the Life Sciences Division in Scarborough. She is married to Doug Funk,
another former PhD student of Professor Stewart.