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Student Spotlight - Nick Felicione

Behavioral Neuroscience PhD Program - Psychology Department

Nick Felicione

Laboratory of Dr. Melissa Blank

Originally from Merrick, NY, I received my BA from State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo in Psychology and Political Science, before relocating to Morgantown, where I received a Master’s Degree in Psychology at WVU. I’m currently a PhD candidate at WVU, in the Department of Psychology’s Behavioral Neuroscience Program, under the mentorship of Dr. Melissa Blank.

I have always been interested in both science and drugs of abuse. As a child, I wondered why adults acted differently when they consumed alcohol. Throughout high school, I was scientifically engaged, and took part in an advanced science research class and science Olympiad competitions. Throughout college, I learned more about how drugs work in my psychology and neuroscience classes, and saw drug use and abuse affecting the lives of more people around me. This combination sparked me to pursue a career in drug abuse research.

The research I do is focused on tobacco regulatory science, meaning the purpose is to provide information about tobacco products to regulatory agencies (e.g., FDA), thus allowing them to make informed policy decisions. The overarching goal associated with this is to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with cigarette smoking, which may be achieved through smoking cessation or using harm reduction strategies.

A few recent studies we’ve done or are being conducted:

  1. My thesis project is comparing methods of measuring electronic cigarette puff topography (puff behavior). Puff topography is predictive of nicotine and toxicant exposure from tobacco products. No well-validated measures of electronic cigarette puff topography exist, and thus, we are hoping to validate devices that can do this.
  2. The focus of another study is to characterize patterns of dual use of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. An important goal of this project is to determine whether smokers use smokeless tobacco to supplement or replace cigarettes throughout the day. We use an EMA (ecological momentary assessment) program that allows participants to record product use in real time.
  3. A third study is assessing the role of electronic cigarettes in the choice to quit smoking. This study aims to determine whether electronic cigarettes make smokers more or less likely to make a formal quit attempt. Smokers are randomly assigned to be given an electronic cigarette or continue using their own brand of cigarettes. Each week, participants come in and choose if they would like to make a formal quit attempt.
  4. Finally, we conducted a smoking cessation trial at the Chestnut Ridge Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment Clinic. We were interested in determining whether timing in opioid addiction treatment (e.g., immediate vs delayed) influences the likelihood of quitting smoking using varenicline. Data for this study was collected daily via text message.

So far in my career, I was selected as a T32 associate scholar, and then became a trainee (entering my 2nd year). I received the STEM Mountains of Excellence Scholarship for 2 academic years. I helped contribute a table on electronic cigarette dependence to the 2016 Surgeon General Report. I have currently have one second-author publication, with more publications to come!

After graduating, my immediate career goal is to gain more experience in a postdoctoral fellow position. I would like to expand my knowledge of nicotine and tobacco research, or gain experience working with different drugs of abuse (e.g., marijuana). Following more training, I plan to either start a career in academia, or pursue a position with a regulatory agency such as the FDA.

What do I like to do when I’m not working in the lab? I am a big music lover! I play bass guitar, and listening to music is one of my favorite hobbies. I also enjoy reading and watching documentaries about music history. I like to watch movies, and would consider myself a film buff. I am a fan of NY sports, particularly basketball, but I love Mountaineer basketball! I also like to get outdoors when I have the chance. I enjoy meditating. I find it both relaxing and stimulating! I value my family and friends and love spending time with them.

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