May 26, 2021
University of Missouri post-doctoral researcher Roberto Cofresí began his education in Austin, Texas. He majored in biochemistry as an undergraduate and went on to earn a PhD in neuroscience. He aimed his research career at addiction because of a lifelong interest in the topic stemming from his childhood in Puerto Rico. “I come from a small town, and growing up I saw the negative consequences of alcohol abuse in people and the community around me.” Cofresí said.
Understanding “cues” became the foundation of Cofresí’s research. Cues are the events or sensory stimuli we perceive during certain activities, and our brains notice and learn them as patterns. When the brain encounters those patterns again, it generates an expectation of what will happen next. For alcohol addiction, cues could include the sight or smell of a beer, the white noise din of a crowded bar, or the sound of a bottle opening. Once the brain associates these environmental patterns with drinking, exposure to them creates anticipation, desire and an urge to drink: a craving.
However, Cofresí’s work was limited by the nature of his research and the slow speed of traditional research methods. That’s when he discovered MO-CARE.
The Missouri Center for Addiction Research and Engagement (MO-CARE) and its comprehensive approach to discovery work to transform addiction research. MO-CARE, housed in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science, is a multidisciplinary center focused on research, student training activities and engagement related to understanding and preventing addictive behaviors and addressing this public health crisis. In MO-CARE, Cofresí saw an opportunity to combine his experience in basic science research and his psychologically oriented approach to earning his PhD to pursue interdisciplinary answers to the puzzle of addiction. MO-CARE uses a team science approach and supports hubs of researchers from multiple disciplines that leads to making discoveries together.
Cofresí said his time with MO-CARE has deeply influenced where he sees himself in the future. “I would rather continue doing science and making discoveries as part of a bigger group of people,” he said. “Exposure to psychological science and its methodology gives me newfound appreciation for how mental health providers can actually help people, and how working together gets us there.”