Alex Sandweiss

Recent Graduate
College of Medicine – Tucson
Year Entered Program: 
Grad Year: 
Degrees Received: 
  • PhD, University of Arizona, Pharmacology, focus in Neuroscience, 2016
  • BS, University of Arizona, Physiology, minor in Music, 2011
Residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Child Neurology
Thesis Advisor: 
Todd Vanderah, PhD
Thesis Research: 

My PhD dissertation revolved around the ability of a neurotransmitter called substance p to promote addiction. We had known for many years that substance p is involved in the pain pathway acting as a pro-nociceptive mediator, or promoter of pain. It also came to light that substance p promotes dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) of the brain, promoting reward or the drive to take an action again (or take a drug of abuse again). Specifically, we knew that opioids promote dopamine release in the NAc and that this may be mediated by substance p. I was involved in deciphering the neural mechanisms that mediate dopamine release, thereby leading to addiction. We detailed the intricate pharmacological and electrophysiological processes that promote reward and the role substance p plays in modulating this process using pharmacological and genetic tools. Along the way, we were the first lab to use CRISPR/Cas9 in vivo in an adult animal’s brain and successfully altered the chemical and behavioral signatures of drug abuse. Our studies helped pave the way to develop a drug that can hopefully provide effective analgesia to patients without the potential for abuse.

About Me: 

Medicine and music had both been very important aspects of my life. I have played the piano for over 25 years now, taught piano/music lessons throughout high school and college, played in a Tucson rock band from 2008-2017, and played in the 'UA Studio Jazz Ensemble A' in college. I majored in Physiology with a minor in music at the University of Arizona, constantly torn between which route to take. I led two separate lives in medicine and music until medical school. I became the arranger/director of the medical school a capella group "Docapella," and also had 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"). Upon graduation from the MD/PhD program at UACOM, I headed to Baylor COM in Houston, TX to train in child neurology at Texas Children's Hospital, specifically in the neuroscience research track, a 5 year residency in pediatrics, adult and child neurology, and a year of dedicated basic science research.

Honors & Awards: 
  • 2018, American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Medical Student Award of Excellence
  • 2018, The Newsom and Mildred Holesapple Estate to Benefit Outstanding Medical Student Research Award, UACOM, Tucson, AZ
  • 2017, American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Visiting Medical Student Scholarship
  • 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.

Video abstract:

Selected Publications: 

Alexander J. Sandweiss, Christopher Morrison, Anne Spichler, John Rozich. “A case report of clonidine induced syncope: a review of central actions of an old cardiovascular drug.” BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology. Volume 19(1):6. February 13 2018.

Alexander J. Sandweiss, Karissa E. Cottier, Mary I. McIntosh, Gregory Dussor, Thomas Davis, Todd W. Vanderah, Tally Largent-Milnes. “17-β-estradiol induces cortical spreading depression and pain behavior in alert female rats.” Oncotarget. Volume 8(69), 114109-114122. December 9, 2017.

Alexander J. Sandweiss, Asad Azim, Kareem Ibraheem, Tally M. Largent-Milnes, Peter Rhee, Todd W. Vanderah, Bellal Joseph. ”Remote ischemic conditioning preserves cognition and motor coordination in a mouse model of traumatic brain injury.” Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. Volume 83(6):1074-1081. December 2017.

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.

Ruben S. Vardanyan, James P. Cain, Sahgar Mowlazadeh Haghighi, Vlad K. Kumirov, Mary I. McIntosh, Alexander J. Sandweiss, Frank Porreca, Victor J. Hruby. “Synthesis and investigation of mixed μ- and δ-opioid agonists as possible bivalent ligands for treatment of pain.”  Journal of Heterocyclic Chemistry. March 1, 2017. (54) 2, 1228-1235. Epub June 2016.

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.

Alexander J. Sandweiss, Todd W. Vanderah. “The Pharmacology of Neurokinin Receptors in Addiction: Prospects for Therapy.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, Volume 2015:6, September 2015, pages 93-102.

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. Vanderah, 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 Society 2014 136 (18), 6608-6616.

Alexander T. Podolsky, Alexander 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 μ/δ-opioid agonists for the treatment of acute and chronic pain.” Life Sciences, Volume 93, Issues 25–26, 18 December 2013, Pages 1010-1016