Judith Homberg, associate professor at the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre
Judith Homberg performed her PhD thesis research on individual differences in vulnerability in cocaine self-administration in rats, at the Dept. of Medical Pharmacology, VUMC, Amsterdam (The Netherlands). Next, she worked as a postdoc at the Hubrecht Institute (Utrecht, The Netherlands) on a groundbreaking project on the generation of knockout rats. Of special interest was the generation of the serotonin transporter knockout rat that has borne fruit in terms of papers and grant proposals. In 2007 she received a Veni, and in 2010 a Vidi grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. She started her own research group at the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre (Nijmegen, The Netherlands). Her strong expertise is in measuring emotional responses and complex cognitive functions, with a link to clinical features, and combining these behavioural measurements with histological and molecular tools.
Last year Judith was awarded with a ZonMW Top Grant, which enables her to focus the next 4 years on her research that addresses the role of serotonin in cocaine addiction. Up to now, an effective therapy for cocaine addicts is not available. In the process that leads to addiction, stimuli from the surroundings that are associated with the use of cocaine, play an important role. These stimuli can induce negative feelings, such as fear, and could be difficult to extinguish because they are common in every-day life. Because serotonin plays an important role in the sensitivity for stimuli, this system may play an important role in vulnerability to cocaine addiction. Of interest, both rats and humans with an elevated serotonin level -due to a generic mutation- display a higher sensitivity for their environment and have a higher risk to get addicted to cocaine. Judith is trying to map the relation of stimuli from the environment in the complex process of addiction.
Undoubtedly, Judith Homberg is a scientist of extremely high scientific quality who received the 2011 Young Scientist Award of the European Behavioural Pharmacology Society. The content of her TED talk remains a secret for now but it will definitely give us a better understanding of how we, perhaps in the near future, could use the environment in therapies that intervene with pathologic brain processes like drug addiction or depression.