#104 Genetics of Opioid Addiction

#104 Genetics of Opioid Addiction


Listeners, I have a big favor to ask from all of you. The Podcast Award nomination season has begun! It’s a people’s choice type of award. In order to be in the running I need listeners like you to nominate the show. DNA Today was nominated back in 2015 and 2016. It would be such an honor to be nominated again. 

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The opioid epidemic has had a major impact in the US, among other countries. In 2017 more than 47,000 Americans died of opioid overdose. And currently, everyday in the US 130 people die from opioid overdoses. To shed light on this epidemic scientists from the Camden Opioid Research Initiative share their project with a focus on the genetics of opioid addiction susceptibility. 

The Camden Opioid Research Initiative has a three pronged approach as outlined below. To learn more about the Camden Opioid Research Initiative (CORI) head over to CORINJ.org. For additional information about genetics of opioid dependence, check out this paper

1) A biobank for blood and brain samples taken from people who have died from overdose as well as family members who are interested in donating.

2) A prospective clinical study of chronic pain patients to determine the interplay between genetic and biological risk factors for opioid addiction. 

3) A clinical study of people currently being treated for opioid addiction to investigate what treatments work best for different genetic makeups. 

On This Episode We Discuss:

  • Types of Genetic Testing for Opioid Susceptibility 

  • Non-Genetic Factors to Opioid Dependence 

  • Brain Biobank of Opioid User Tissues

  • Brain Differences of Opioid Users

  • Potential Uses of Opioid Genetic Research 

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Stefan Zajic, PhD, is a principal research scientist at the Coriell Institute and currently serves as the scientific lead for the Camden Opioid Research Initiative, a collaborative investigation into the genetic and non-genetic risk factors for opioid use disorder, also called opioid dependence or addiction.

Prior to CORI, Stefan focused on the Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative (CPMC), a research study examining the clinical utility of genetic information. In this role, Stefan interfaced with the study team to execute a number of chief initiatives – experimental design, data collection and analysis, and the pursuit of research funding.

Before coming to Coriell, Stefan was a principal scientist in research and development with Merck & Co., contributing to quantitative pharmacology and pharmacometrics analyses and using mathematical modeling and simulation to address key clinical questions.

Stefan received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and earned his doctorate in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Kaitlan Baston, MD, MSc is the medical director of Addiction Medicine at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NJ and Assistant Professor at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. She is dual boarded in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine. 

Kaitlan obtained a masters degree in Neuroscience from Kings College London, and then graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. She pursued full spectrum family medicine training with obstetrics in Seattle, Washington, and received her waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for patients with opioid dependence early in her training. With the goals of community outreach, healthcare education and hospital system improvement, she completed an ABAM accredited addiction medicine fellowship. 

Kaitlan became the medical director of Cooper’s Addiction Medicine Program in 2015. She currently practices in their Urban Health Institute. She strives not only to create a home for patients with substance use disorders within the medical system, but also to end the stigma of addiction in society and to ensure that all patients suffering from substance use disorders are offered treatments that can allow them to live full and satisfying lives. 


Russell J. Buono, PhD, is a renowned science educator and researcher in molecular biology and genetics of the human brain and disease states with a focus on epilepsy, substance abuse, bipolar disorder. He is currently a Professor of Biomedical Sciences at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. Russell earned his doctorate degree in Cell and Developmental Biology from Temple University in 1990. 

A popular educator of graduate and post-graduate students in the areas of neuro-anatomy and neuroscience, Russell was a faculty member at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital; University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He was the recipient of the 1st Annual "Science Educator of the Year" award by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience in 2004.

Russell served as Associate Chief of Staff for Research at the Coatesville VA Medical Center. An accomplished researcher, Dr. Buono has authored or co-authored hundreds of peer reviewed articles, book chapters and presentations. His current research focuses on molecular genetics and cell biology of human neurological and psychiatric disorders, including oxygen regulated gene expression and the emerging field of pharmacogenetics. 

Dr. Buono is known throughout the Philadelphia region for his unique public outreach initiative, "Dr. Brain Dude," a traveling collection of brain specimens. He is also co-founder of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) at The Franklin Institute Science Museum.

Stay tuned for the next new episode of DNA Today. New episodes are released on the first Friday of the month. With a few bonus episodes here and there. See what else I am up to on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and iTunes. Questions/inquiries can be sent to info@DNApodcast.com.

Nominate "DNA Today" For The Podcast Awards

Nominate "DNA Today" For The Podcast Awards

#103 Brianne Kirkpatrick on Adoptee Genetic Testing

#103 Brianne Kirkpatrick on Adoptee Genetic Testing