By Dirk Hoffman
Published December 22, 2023
Sergio Dominguez-Lopez, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, received a travel award from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) to attend its annual meeting Dec. 3-6 in Tampa, Florida.
The ACNP, founded in 1961, is a professional, international organization of leading brain scientists.
Dominguez-Lopez is a first-generation Hispano/Latino neuroscientist with a strong interest in neuropharmacology and substance use disorders.
He is a member of the ACNP’s underrepresented minority (URM) Near Peer Mentoring program and attended special sessions and events dedicated to it at the annual meeting event.
The 12-month program provides workshops, seminars and resources for URM scientists as part of the commitment and efforts of the ACNP to increase diversity and inclusion in its ranks.
“Attending the ACNP meeting allowed me to meet my peers and mentors face-to-face,” Dominguez-Lopez says. “We have been meeting for about a year, but this was the first in-person meeting.”
Dominguez-Lopez says he was very pleased to win the travel award.
“It is a great honor and a fulfilling professional achievement for me,” he says. “These awards are very competitive, and the application process considers your professional trajectory, commitment and scientific contributions to neuropsychopharmacology.”
“In a way, it is a recognition that, as an early career investigator, my research has the potential to impact our understanding of brain disease and its treatment.”
During the ACNP meeting, several events were dedicated to welcoming Travel Awardees.
“I was paired with a senior member of the College, who served as my mentor during the meeting, introducing me to other members and giving feedback on my current research,” Dominguez-Lopez says. “This opened opportunities for me to network and start collaborations with other scientists attending the meeting.”
Dominguez-Lopez says that as an early career investigator, meeting senior scientists in his field and expanding his network is critical for his professional development.
“I was able to talk with colleagues with similar interests and share our findings and future research directions,” he says. “The College brings together scientists and clinicians from around the world, and I had the opportunity to reunite with past and present mentors who have been vital in my professional formation in the United States and Canada.”
Additionally, Dominguez-Lopez says he received a front-row view “of the current priority areas of research and initiatives at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) due to the fact the ACNP annual meeting is one of the few conferences attended by several NIH directors.
Dominguez-Lopez came to the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 2023. He earned a doctoral degree in neuroscience from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
His focus is on researching the etiology and neurobiology of substance use disorders, with the goal of providing new targets with the therapeutic potential to treat them.
“Substance use disorder is an incapacitating condition that affects a large population in the U.S.,” Dominguez-Lopez says. “Several commonly used substances such as alcohol, illicit drugs such as methamphetamine, and prescription drugs such as the opioid oxycodone can be overly used to the point that they interfere with all other aspects of a person’s life.”
How these substances affect the brain and drive individuals to uncontrolled drug use despite harmful consequences is not entirely known, he notes.
“My research aims to provide a deep study of the progressive changes in brain circuits, neuronal metabolism, and cellular physiology that led to drug-seeking behavior by modeling the progression of the disorder in mice trained to self-administer drugs,” Dominguez-Lopez says.
“In the long run, I hope to uncover molecular and cellular targets to develop novel therapeutical strategies to help individuals suffering from substance use disorders.”