Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide after Alzheimer’s, and affects an estimated 1% of the population older than 60 years. This condition is known to cause a variety of neurological symptoms, such as difficulties with standing and walking, problems with coordination, tremors, and even dementia. Yannick Schreiber, a Beckman Scholar at the University of Arizona, hopes to help combat the progression of Parkinson’s disease using chemistry. As a member of the laboratory of Dr. John Jewett, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Arizona, Schreiber is working to develop new methods for studying and treating Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the loss of dopaminergic neurons—that is, the cells responsible for producing dopamine, a chemical that our bodies produce to send signals in the brain and other areas of the nervous system. As such, research into drug design for Parkinson’s disease has long been dominated by dopamine replacement therapies that seek to maintain dopamine levels in the brain. However, as the disease progresses, dopamine-replacing medications often fail to control the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The quest to find new drugs for managing Parkinson’s disease has netted the interest of pharmaceutical companies and research laboratories—including Dr. Jewett’s laboratory.
Schreiber’s research in the laboratory draws inspiration from caffeine—a molecule that many of us consume on a daily basis. “Luckily for coffee drinkers, caffeine is actually thought to possess ‘neuroprotective’ properties,” Schreiber explains. “That is, many studies have shown that Parkinson’s disease is less common among people who drink coffee.” While taking an occasional visit to Starbucks may not necessarily prevent the development of Parkinson’s disease, the protective effects of caffeine in Parkinson’s disease pose interesting scientific questions. Istradefylline, a drug with a similar structure to caffeine, has been approved in Japan as a therapeutic option for managing Parkinson’s disease. By developing compounds with similar structures to caffeine and istradefylline, Schreiber hopes to further the understanding of this devastating disease.
Although the compounds developed by Schreiber are based on the structures for caffeine and istradefylline, Schreiber’s compounds contain a technology that may be used to label and identify the cellular machinery involved in the interactions between caffeine-like molecules and cells affected by Parkinson’s disease. The project, which has received funding from the University of Arizona’s Tech Launch Arizona initiative, has recently entered the stage of pharmacological testing. “I am excited to see what this research will reveal,” says Schreiber. “Hopefully, this research will shed more light on how certain molecules affect the progression of Parkinson’s disease, and provide new information for the development of therapeutic options to help alleviate the symptoms associated with this disease.”
University of Arizona Beckman Scholars Program
Dr. John Jewett
University of Arizona Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry