Initial Research Funded by Navicent Health Foundation has Wider Implications for Substance Abuse Solution

Mercer Professor Receives Award from National Institutes of Health to Continue Research

Kristen Ashley Horner, Ph.D., pharmacology professor at Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) recently received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) to continue investigative research into the neural pathways that contribute to the development of habitual drug use.

Dr. Horner's project, "The Role of Patch Compartment Neurons in Reward and Habitual Behavior," received the $462,660 grant through NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dr. Horner began her initial research thanks to an initial grant from Navicent Health Foundation.

"Preliminary work for this grant was funded by the Research and Education Committee of the Navicent Health Foundation in 2016. The committee granted Dr. Horner $14,000, which was split between Navicent Health Foundation and Mercer University School of Medicine, allowing her to gather the data needed in her NIH application. We are thrilled that Dr. Horner's work has been recognized on the national stage, and that she will continue her research into this important topic," said Ellen Terrell, Chief Development Officer for Navicent Health Foundation.

Navicent Health Foundation is charged with the purpose of funding local healthcare initiatives that support the health and wellness of those living in central and south Georgia. Through its annual research and education grant awards, Navicent Health Foundation funds local research that often has impact well beyond Georgia.

The primary focus of Dr. Horner's project is to delineate whether a region of the brain called the patch compartment, which has been implicated in repetitive behaviors, contributes to the progression of goal-directed drug use to habitual and inflexible drug-seeking behaviors.

"Support from the NIH will give us the opportunity to further investigate the factors that contribute to addiction. I would like to thank Atrium Health Navicent and the Mercer University School of Medicine for their support, without which this NIH grant would not have been possible," said Dr. Horner.

Those in the fields of science and medicine interested in applying for a research and education grant from Navicent Health Foundation may visit for information and an application.

About Atrium Health Navicent

Atrium Health Navicent, the leading provider of healthcare in central and south Georgia, is committed to its mission of elevating health and wellbeing through compassionate care. Providing more than 1,000 beds and offering care in 53 specialties at more than 50 facilities throughout the region, Atrium Health Navicent provides care for healthcare consumers' through an academic medical center; community, pediatric and rehabilitation hospitals; urgent care centers; physician practices; diagnostic centers; home health; hospice and palliative care; and a life plan community. Atrium Health Navicent is dedicated enhancing health and wellness for individuals throughout the region through nationally-recognized quality care, community health initiatives and collaborative partnerships. For more information, please visit