Lindsey Olivere: Student Seeks Alternative Pathway for Parkinson's Treatment

Chemistry major Lindsey Olivere

Senior Lindsey Olivere is trying to synthesize novel compounds that may enhance Parkinson's treatments. The chemistry major and literature minor from Wilmington, Del., is conducting her research as part of a Chemistry Summer Research Fellowship and plans on continuing her work as part of a senior thesis.

Olivere, who is working with chemistry and biochemistry professor Dewey McCafferty, is researching the mechanism of action and target site of cyclopropylamine substrates -- compounds that have anti-Parkinsonian effects.

"Our ultimate goal right now is to make eight grams of this final product to send off to our collaborators to be tested in rats for the anti-Parkinsonian effects," she said. "We believe it's a dopamine independent pathway, which is really exciting because right now Parkinson's treatments are focused on dopamine pathways."

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder, characterized by a loss of motor function. The disease symptoms are the result of the death of dopamine-producing cells. Olivere said by the time most patients start showing symptoms, 60 to 70 percent of their dopamine stores have been depleted. Thus, many treatments focus on restoring dopamine levels in the body, and few studies have looked at alternative mechanisms.

Currently, Olivere is working on organic synthesis so that she can make the lab's target compound.

"There's three steps to the synthesis," she said. "The first two steps take a day each, and the third step is something that we haven't quite figured out yet. We're troubleshooting and trying to figure out how to get from step B to C."

After successfully synthesizing the substrate, Olivere will test it on mice that were genetically modified so that they are dopamine deficient. These mice are defective of movement, but the compound has been shown to completely restore their movement.

"In these mice, [researchers are] able to eliminate 99 percent of the mice's dopamine levels," she said. "It's the first time that they've ever been able to complete an animal model with dopamine deficiency without it being lethal."

Beyond her research, Olivere was a member of Duke's track and field team for two and a half years, and still runs about 50 miles per week. She is also a tutor for the organic and general chemistry classes, and is the social chair of the Chemistry Major's Union. This summer, she will be a resident assistant for the American Dance Festival participants who stay on East Campus for the festival.

Olivere said she has always been interested in aging and health, and wanted to work on research related to either Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. She worked with the elderly in Lima, Peru, for two consecutive spring breaks, as part of Duke's alternative breaks program.

After graduation, Olivere said she hopes to spend a year working with the same community in Peru before pursuing an MD-PhD dual degree.

"With research I've done prior to this its been difficult to see the bigger picture, but this project has kept me curious," she said.