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Binge drinking and the brain

PhD graduate plans to apply doctoral research to practical setting


By Marcia Porter

Dr. Matthew Lamont just started Memorial’s medical doctor program – even though he’s already a doctor.

Dr. Lamont graduated with his PhD in pharmacy this fall, with his doctoral research focusing on adolescent binge drinking.

‘Cumulative effects’

“It’s surprisingly common for people of a wide range of ages to report binge-drinking in the past 30 days; while a single binge drinking session would be relatively harmless, it’s the cumulative effects in which there is potential harm,” he said.

Interested in the impact of substance abuse and addiction on the human brain since his undergraduate days as a B.Sc. (psychology) student at the University of New Brunswick, Dr. Lamont was drawn to the work of Dr. John Weber, a professor in Memorial’s School of Pharmacy.

Dr. Weber’s research focuses on substance abuse and compounds that protect against brain aging, trauma and neurodegenerative disease.

“Depending on how much someone drinks when they are young, this could lead to adverse effects.” — Dr. John Weber

Dr. Lamont first arrived at Memorial to complete his master of science degree (neuroscience) under Dr. Weber’s supervision.

He continued into a PhD program with Dr. Weber, with funding for his research provided by a generous Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Alexander Graham Bell Scholarship.

“Matthew’s research is important because it shows that multiple episodes of binge drinking during the adolescent brain period may lead to long-term consequences,” said Dr. Weber.

“Depending on how much someone drinks when they are young, this could lead to adverse effects on motor co-ordination and memory many years later.”

From left, Dr. Matthew Lamont worked with his PhD supervisor Dr. John Weber on research about adolescent binge drinking, with results that pointed to potential long-term consequences on memory and motor-coordination many years later.

The findings point to the need for a deeper dive into the issue, with binge drinking among young people almost a societal rite-of-passage that’s prevalent across the country, including in Newfoundland and Labrador, says Dr. Weber.

Long-term implications

When Dr. Lamont began his research a few years ago, he had a feeling the results would be striking.

“It acts as a red flag, that more research is needed around binge drinking and its implications in our long-term health,” he said.

“I began to realize that I could help even a greater number of people through research and creating new knowledge.” — Dr. Matthew Lamont

During the course of his work, both at the master’s and doctoral level, Dr. Lamont made another significant discovery – this time about himself and his future career.

“I had always dreamed of going to medical school as a young boy in order to help people suffering with illness and disease,” he said. “However, I began to realize that I could help even a greater number of people through research and creating new knowledge.”

Now enrolled in the MD program at Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine, he is looking ahead to eventually becoming a clinical researcher and applying his findings in the practice setting.

“Too often the results generated by basic research take way too long to be put into a practical application, often over 15 years from the initial date of publication. I think this is an area that I can contribute to significantly.”

Deep dive

While his focus shifts to completing his MD, Dr. Lamont recognizes the importance of a continued look at binge drinking among young people.

“My work found inflammation of brain tissue, so future work could focus more on how alcohol is influencing inflammation,” he said.

“The other big area that sticks out to me is the behavioural changes seen from treatment; more work here could look at if the treated subjects regained their impaired mental faculties after even more time post-alcohol or if there are potentially other impairments we did not test for.”

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