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Q&A with Dr. Swarup Mitra: Treating Opioid Use Disorder With a Novel Class of Drugs

November 27, 2023

Swarup Mitra, PhD, is an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences and a recipient of a 2023 Faculty Starter Grant in Drug Discovery from the PhRMA Foundation.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in research.

I grew up in a small town in the eastern province of West Bengal, India. I was always interested in biology during my school days, and my love for research increased during my undergraduate degree in microbiology. But a dearth of access to good research opportunities made me look beyond my comfort zone. That is how I ended up in the United States to do my PhD. The Biochemistry and Neuroscience Graduate Program at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, was a perfect fit. During my doctoral research, I became profusely invested in understanding the brain and how it goes awry during various neuropsychiatric diseases including drug addiction. My postdoctoral research on drug addiction complemented my passion and research goals for future independent positions.

Briefly describe your PhRMA Foundation-funded research project and its potential impact on patients.

Opioid use disorder is a major public health crisis. The existing therapeutic options are limited and fail to reverse the long-lasting changes in the brain function that underlie vulnerability for relapse. Psychoplastogens are a novel class of drug molecules that are similar to psychedelics. These drugs produce rapid and long-lasting changes in the brain. However, the precise brain mechanisms regulated by psychoplastogens remain elusive. Using a rat model, my study seeks to unravel how two novel psychoplastogens — DM506 and TBG — counter the addictive effects of opioid consumption. We propose that these new-generation psychoplastogens that do not produce hallucinations will reduce opioid-seeking behavior in rodents by altering the brain mechanisms.

How will the PhRMA Foundation’s support impact your research and your career?

The PhRMA Foundation’s Faculty Starter Grant in Drug Discovery has not only provided much needed financial support, but has also engendered a new arm of research in my laboratory invested in understanding novel drug molecules against opioid use disorder. The PhRMA Foundation has essentially changed my outlook toward disease biology to not just understanding the mechanisms but also finding the remedies.

What has surprised you the most in your research journey so far?

The fact that most often the answers to a complex research question lie in the simple and yet overlooked processes. It is important to pay attention to the subtleties in research.

What has been challenging in your research journey and how did you overcome it?

The greatest challenge in my research journey has been to navigate through my failures. I’ve had more failures than successes in my research career. My failures have almost always opened the next door, as long as I was able to manage them without feeling defeated.

What advice would you give to other young researchers, such as those applying for PhRMA Foundation awards?

Don’t feel discouraged by failures, don’t shy away from asking a bold scientific question, and keep persevering.

What are your future career aspirations?

My laboratory will continue working on unraveling the brain mechanisms that underlie opioid use disorder and using novel drug molecules to combat various aspect of the disease.

Learn more about the PhRMA Foundation’s fellowship and grant opportunities. Check out more researcher stories on our blog.