Roth’s novel research technique, DREADDs, lands him on Top 10 List

Bryan L. Roth’s DREADDs technology, which earned him a $2.85-million NIH BRAIN Initiative grant, was named one of the top 10 mental health stories of note by Tom Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

In his most recent blog post, Insel dedicated number 9 on the list to research tools that can modulate brain circuit activity and that have pushed the study of brain function “increasingly from correlation to causation.”

Insel highlighted optogenetics, a research technique pioneered by Stanford researcher Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, and the DREADDs technique, pioneered by UNC’s Roth, the Michael Hooker Distinguished Professor of Protein Therapeutics and Translational Proteomics in the department of pharmacology.

DREADDs is short for “designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs.” Roth uses designed molecules to modulate cells in a slower fashion than does optogenetics, which is the use of light and genetic manipulation to modulate cells. DREADDs has allowed Roth and more than one hundred other scientists who’ve adopted the technology to study in detail the biological mechanisms that underlie many conditions, such as autism, addiction, depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and some forms of cancer.

Earlier this year, Roth, along with two other UNC researchers, received a BRAIN Initiative grant to hone the DREADDs technology. This grant also meant that Roth and his colleagues Thomas Kash, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology, and Jian Jin, PhD, associate professor in the School of Pharmacy, were part of number 4 on Insel’s list – the launch of the NIH BRAIN Initiative.

For his work, Roth was elected to the Institute of Medicine this year.

Roth is a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. In addition to his UNC School of Medicine roles, Roth is the director of the National Institute of Mental Health Psychoactive Drug Screening Program and professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Read more about DREADDs here.