Alex Sandweiss

College of Medicine – Tucson
Year Entered Program: 
Degrees Received: 
  • PhD, University of Arizona, Pharmacology, focus in Neuroscience, 2016
  • BS, University of Arizona, Physiology, minor in Music, 2011
Thesis Advisor: 
Todd Vanderah, PhD
Thesis Research: 

I am studying the ability of a neurotransmitter called substance p to promote addiction. We have known for many years that substance p is involved in the pain pathway acting as a pro-nociceptive mediator, or promoter of pain. It has also come to light that substance p promotes dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) of the brain, promoting reward or the drive to do something again (or take a drug of abuse again). Specifically, we know that opioids promote dopamine release in the NAc and this may be mediated by substance p. I have been involved in deciphering the neural mechanisms that mediate dopamine release, thereby leading to addiction. My dissertation details the intricate pharmacological and electrophysiological processes that promote reward, and the role substance p plays in modulating this process. We hope to develop a drug that antagonizes (blocks) the substance p system to help treat patients with addiction.

About Me: 

Medicine and music have both been very important aspects of my life. I have played the piano for over 20 years now, taught piano/music lessons throughout high school and college, have played in a local rock band since 2008, and played in the 'UA Studio Jazz Ensemble A' in college. I majored in Physiology with a minor in music at the UA, constantly torn between which route to take. I led two separate lives in medicine and music until now. I am now the arranger/director of the medical school a capella group called "Docapella," and also have a very deep interest in the role of music as an analgesic (which, believe it or not, there is a wealth of information in a category of neuroscience called "Music Cognition"). Although not specifically my dissertation, I keep up with the "Music Cognition" research field and how it relates to pain in my spare time and will always keep music in my life, tied intricately with my professional medical career. Perhaps someday I will join a "Doc Band" with fellow physicians or even treat my patients with music therapy.

Honors & Awards: 
  • 2017, Invited speaker at “The CRISPR-Cas9 Revolution in Pharmacology” Symposium. ASPET Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology. Chicago, IL.
  • 2016, Donald Sheer Endowment Scholarship for travel to International Narcotics Research Conference, Bath, England
  • 2016, Chosen participant for NINDS/AUPN “Combining Clinical and Research Careers in Neuroscience," Washington, DC
  • 2016, President’s Award, University of Arizona GPSC Student Showcase
  • 2016, BIO5 Innovator Award, University of Arizona GPSC Student Showcase
  • 2013, 1st Place, Best Poster at UA GME Scholarly Day
Media Appearance:

Science of an Overdose. Cronkite News- Arizona PBS. January 2017.

Selected Publications: 
  1. Alexander J. Sandweiss, Mary I. McIntosh, Aubin Moutal, Rachel Davidson-Knapp, Jackie Hu, Aswini K. Giri, Takashi Yamamoto, Victor J. Hruby, Rajesh Khanna, Tally M. Largent-Milnes, Todd W. Vanderah. “Genetic and pharmacological antagonism of NK1 receptor prevents opiate abuse potential.” Molecular Psychiatry. Advance Online Publication, May 9, 2017.

  2. Alexander J. Sandweiss, Asad Azim, Kareem Ibraheem, Tally M. Largent-Milnes, Peter Rhee, Todd W. Vanderah, Bellal Joseph. ”Remote ischemic conditioning attenuates cognitive and motor deficits from moderate traumatic brain injury.” Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. In Press, May 2017.

  3. Cyf N. Ramos-Colon, Yeon Sun Lee, Michael Remesic, Sara M. Hall, Justin LaVigne, Peg Davis, Alexander J. Sandweiss, Mary I. McIntosh, Jessica Hanson, Tally M. Largent-Milnes, Todd W. Vanderah, John Streicher, Frank Porreca, Victor J. Hruby. “Structure Activity Relationships of [des-Arg7]- Dynorphin A Analogues at the Kappa Opioid Receptor.” Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 2016 Nov 23;59(22):10291-10298.

  4. Alexander J. Sandweiss, Todd W. Vanderah. "The Pharmacology of neurokinin receptors in addiction: prospects for therapy." Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, September, 2015, Volume 2015:6, pages 93-102.

  5. Yeon Sun Lee, Dhanasekaran Muthu, Sara M. Hall, Cyf Ramos-Colon, David Rankin, Jackie Hu, Alexander J. Sandweiss, Milena De Felice, Jennifer Yanhua Xie, Todd W. Vaderah, Frank Porreca, Josephine Lai, and Victor J. Hruby. "Discovery of Amphipathic Dynorphin A Analogues to Inhibit the Neuroexcitatory Effects of Dynorphin A through Bradykinin Receptors in the Spinal Cord." Journal of the American Chemical Socety 2014 136 (18), 6608-666.

  6. Alexander T. Podolsky, Alexander J. Sandweiss, Jackie Hu, Edward J. Bilsky, Jim P. Cain, Vlad K. Kumirov, Yeon Sun Lee, Victor J. Hruby, Ruben S. Vardanyan, Todd W. Vanderah. "Novel fentanyl-based dual u/o-opoid agonists for the treatment of acute and chronic pain." Life Sciences, Volume 93, Issues 25-26, 18 December 2013, Pages 1010-1016.

Video abstract:


  1. “CRISPRing out opiate reward: in vivo genetic and pharmacological manipulation of the neurokinin system.” Invited Speaker at “The CRISPR-Cas9 Revolution in Pharmacology” Symposium. ASPET Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology 2017. Chicago, IL. April 24, 2017.

  2. “Pulling the brakes on midbrain dopamine cells: inhibiting substance p prevents opiate reward.” International Narcotics Research Conference, “Hot Topic” Talk. Bath, England. July 12, 2016.

  3. “The role of substance p in modulating reward.” Ventana Medical Systems Seminar Series. Tucson, AZ. December 7, 2015.

  4. Alexander J. Sandweiss, Josh Stark, Tally Largent-Milnes, Todd W. Vanderah. An opioid agonist/NK1 antagonist inhibits nociception in an animal model of neuropathic pain while lacking accumbens dopamine release. MD/PhD National Student Conference. Keystone, Colorado. July 2015.

  5. Alexander J. Sandweiss, David Skinner, Tally Largent-Milnes, Todd W. Vanderah. Estrogen induces cortical spreading depression (CSD) associated with migraine aura in awake, freely moving female rats. American Pain Society. Palm Springs, California. May 2015.

  6. Alexander J. Sandweiss, Martin Faridian, Jackie Hu, Scott Wallace, Saul Ortega, Peg Davis, Alysia N. Ondoua-Lozano, Victor J. Hruby, Todd W. Vanderah. TY032, a potent opioid agonist/neurokinin 1 antagonist produces analgesia without motor impairment or sedation.  Experimental Biology. Boston, Massachusetts. 2013.