Mustafa al’Absi, PhD

Professor, Department of Family Medicine and BioBehavioral Health

Mustafa al’Absi is a Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Biobehavioral Health, and he is the holder of the Max & Mary La Due Pickworth Endowed Chair at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He serves as an adjunct professor in Psychiatry and in Epidemiology, and as a graduate faculty member in the Departments of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology, and Integrated Biological Sciences. Dr. al’Absi directs the Behavioral Medicine Laboratories at two sites of the Medical School (Duluth and Minneapolis); and he is the current Director of the Duluth Global Health Research Institute (DGHRI).  Dr. al’Absi completed his undergraduate studies in Psychology and Biology at Cairo University and his Ph.D. in Biological and Clinical Psychology from the University of Oklahoma. For the past twenty years, Dr. al’Absi has been leading a research program integrating basic, laboratory, and clinical methods to elucidate mechanisms by which stress plays a role in tobacco relapse and then leveraging this knowledge to develop novel interventions. He has published more than 200 scientific articles and two books. His early research focused on stress mechanisms related to risk for heart disease, pioneering lab and field studies using an array of lab and natural stressors as well as pharmacological challenges in human studies. While funded by NHLBI and AHA, he focused on defining the mechanisms of hypoalgesia and stress response alterations as intermediate endophenotypes of hypertension. This early research helped him develop a keen appreciation for the significance of stress response alterations in nicotine addiction.

Dr. al’Absi’s research program has been funded by multiple R01 grants from NIDA and NCI. He has received a Smart Health and Wellbeing award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  An important, replicated finding from his program is the blunted hormonal stress response among smokers and other stimulant users, which manifests as enhanced basal pituitary-adrenocortical activity and decreased response to a range of stressors. This dysregulated pattern of response predicts early smoking relapse. He is currently examining the role of endogenous opioids and cannabinoids in the blunting of the stress response in cigarette smokers. He has also examined the extent to which blunted hormonal response predicts changes in dietary intake, weight, and relapse. Defining these links will inform future models for targeted treatment to address weight gain as an impediment for smoking cessation. He has also been leading efforts to improve methods for assessment of stress and tobacco use in the field by developing innovative and unobtrusive high-tech methods to collect physiological and contextual data in natural settings using wearable sensors. The goals are to obtain continuous, real-time measures of stress and smoking and to leverage this information to apply just-in-time intervention.

Dr. al’Absi has served in several national and international leadership positions, including serving as president of the American Psychosomatic Society (APS), chair of AMECA, and board member of the Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR). He has been honored with the Neal E. Miller Award, the Herbert Weiner Award, and the NIDA Award of Excellence in Collaborative Research. He is currently a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Sciences and the Academy for Behavioral Medicine; and he is a former fellow of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Mind-Body Network. He has served as a guest editor for Biological Psychology and Psychosomatic Medicine; and he has served as associate editor for Psychophysiology and Biological Psychology. He served as a standing member on the NIH “Mechanisms of Emotion, Stress, and Health” Study Section and he has severed on many other NIH, VA, and NSF review panels.

Dr. al’Absi has demonstrated leadership in global outreach, engaging universities in low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia. He has launched an international program focusing on the co-use of tobacco and khat (a natural amphetamine widely use in Africa and the Middle East). This research led to his establishment of the international Khat Research Program (KRP), which was funded by the Fogarty International Center and NIDA. He also led the establishment of the thriving Africa and Middle East Congress on Addiction (AMECA), a unique organization that has mobilized government agencies and international organizations to develop research capacity and opportunities for local researchers focusing on addiction.


Mustafa al'Absi, PhD