Binghamton University faculty and students continue to make headway on Parkinson’s disease research this semester.

Christopher Bishop, professor of psychology and director of the undergraduate integrative neuroscience program, is currently developing a therapy aimed at providing relief for those with Parkinson’s disease who suffer from L-DOPA-induced dyskinesia, a side effect caused by their chronic drug therapy. This dyskinesia is characterized by uncontrollable jaw, limb and torso spasms resulting from lack of regulation in dopamine cycling.

Parkinson’s disease is associated with cumulative dopamine loss. Bishop and his research team, including Sophie Cohen, a senior double-majoring in integrative neuroscience and Spanish, are focused on the role that serotonin, a neurotransmitter, holds in regulating the chemical balance in the brain.

“We’ve been working with antidepressants that are able to regulate these serotonin neurons that also transport dopamine so that some checks and balances are in place,” Cohen wrote in an email.

The therapy Bishop is developing involves using Vilazodone, a drug previously approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an antidepressant. Michael Coyle, ‘19, and current research technician for this project, believes repurposing an already-FDA-approved drug is advantageous.

“We already know the drug is safe and tolerable in humans, we know how it works mechanistically and there is a much greater chance of success when repurposing drugs as compared to working with novel compounds,” Coyle wrote in an email.

Bishop’s interest in Parkinson’s disease research can be traced back to earlier in his career.

“As a recently minted Ph.D., I trained with [Paul Walker] at Wayne State University School of Medicine,” Bishop wrote in an email. “He was studying neuroplasticity in Parkinson’s disease. I was lucky enough to cultivate those ideas and transplant them into my own laboratory when I started as an assistant professor at [BU] in 2005.”

Bishop’s research with Parkinson’s disease has advanced since first commencing this work.

“I started studying Parkinson’s disease in 2001 with [Walker],” Bishop wrote. “Since that time, we have not only focused on translating treatments for Parkinson’s disease and treatment-related side effects, but we have broadened our interests to include the study of exercise interventions in Parkinson’s disease and less-studied but equally important non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, like depression, anxiety and psychosis.”

Bishop said he is eager to see how his project continues to progress.

“We hope to advance this project on two fronts,” Bishop wrote. “First, by understanding how our drugs work, we can gain a better understanding of the basic neurobiology of Parkinson’s disease. Second, we hope to partner with [the] industry to repurpose safe, FDA-approved drugs for improved treatment of Parkinson’s disease patients.”

Bishop believes that his time at BU has facilitated his progress with this project.

“[BU] has been integral to my success,” Bishop wrote. “The institution and my department are supportive of research, the facilities are state-of-the-art and the students, both undergraduate and graduate, have been instrumental in driving our work forward.”

Bishop’s lab is supported by the efforts of numerous graduate and undergraduate students. Cohen said she enjoys the collaborative environment of Bishop’s lab.

“We work very collaboratively with one another on projects and training,” Cohen wrote. “This not only gives graduate students the support they need to complete their theses but also provides opportunities for [undergraduates] to get a very hands-on experience working in the lab, which is rare and vital for curating a strong scientific background.”

Over the years, Bishop’s lab has gained the support of numerous scientific organizations.

“Bishop Lab has also been accepted into [BU] XCEED and the National Science Foundation’s Regional I-Corps classes, both of which are aimed at gathering the information, tools and connections necessary to make sure Treatment X can reach the patients in need in a timely fashion,” Coyle wrote.

This acknowledgment opened communication between the pharmaceutical companies and Bishop’s laboratory team.

“Thanks to these programs, I’ve been getting in contact with all kinds of people: directors of [Parkinson’s disease] research within pharmaceutical companies, neurologists specializing in movement disorders, venture capital groups and biotech startups,” Coyle wrote.