School of Social Work

No. 28 M.S.W. Program in the U.S.

Karen G. Chartier

Karen G. Chartier, Ph.D., joined the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work in August 2013. With her, she brought a wealth of research experience as well as a National Institutes of Health’s training grant, a 5-year K01 career development grant by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2012 for Ethnicity and Alcohol Dependence: Phenotypes, Genes, and the Social Environment.

The project aims to increase the understanding of how genetic and social factors contribute to alcohol dependence in African Americans and Hispanics. Compared with European Americans, these two groups are disproportionately disadvantaged by health and social problems from drinking. Chartier studies genes that encode enzymes involved in alcohol metabolism and investigate the joint effects between these gene variants and the social environment on drinking and alcohol dependence. Chartier presented findings from her study at the 2013 World Congress of Psychiatric Genetics in Boston, Mass., reporting that the risks for alcohol dependence associated with alcohol metabolism gene variants were lower in adults with greater religious involvement.

“This study is important because most genetics research to date has involved individuals of European descent. Genetic studies with diverse populations are more limited. Health disparities research has long pointed to the role of social factors in explaining the differences in disease burden observed across racial and ethnic groups. There is a need for research that examines the joint contributions of genetics and the environment on alcohol dependence in racial and ethnic minority populations,” says Chartier.

Chartier collaborates with Ken Kendler, M.D. and Danielle Dick, Ph.D. at the VCU Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics and Laura Almasy, Ph.D. at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, who together serve as mentors on her grant.

Chartier comes to VCU from the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas. She completed her graduate studies at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Alcohol Research Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Her research examines racial and ethnic group differences in drinking, alcohol dependence, treatment utilization, and problems related to alcohol use.

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