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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Garry Cooper, Northwestern Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program Student

Garry Cooper

Where is your hometown?
I’m from Dayton, Ohio.

What is your educational background?
I received my bachelor of science degree in mathematics and a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry from Indiana University. Now I am pursuing my doctorate degree in neuroscience here at Northwestern University.  

What are your research interests?
Parkinson’s disease, the role of voltage-gated ion channels in health and disease, neurodegeneration, and drug discovery for neurodegenerative diseases.

What exciting projects are you working on? 
Currently, I am working on the possible discovery of a preventive measure in Parkinson’s disease. Working in the labs of D. James Surmeier, PhD, chair of Feinberg’s Department of Physiology and Nathan Smith Davis Professor of Physiology, and Richard B. Silverman, PhD, John Evans Professor of Chemistry and professor of molecular biosciences, we are pursuing the discovery of a small brain permeant organic molecule that selectively inhibits a relatively rarely expressed voltage-gated calcium channel that we have shown to be an important player in the vulnerability of the dopamine neurons. The loss of these dopamine neurons are most responsible for the cardinal motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease. 

It has been shown that antagonizing this calcium channel protects these dopamine neurons in toxin models of Parkinson’s disease. In addition, several epidemiological studies show a reduced risk of onset of Parkinson’s disease if strong antagonist to this channel are administered. However, the drug of choice to date has been non-selective antagonist to these calcium channels. And chronic administration of neuroprotective dose of this non-selectively antagonist might produce consequential cardiac side effects. 

We have developed the first selective compound to this calcium channel and are evaluating its potential as a neuroprotective agent in Parkinson’s disease etiology. 

What attracted you to the NUIN program?
The NUIN program offered, and continues in this manner, two major factors that made it the program I was most interested in joining to obtain my PhD. First, in coming to Northwestern I knew that I was interested in brain research, but had little preference for the technical approach and/or type of question. Therefore, I needed to join a program that fostered collaboration and multidisciplinary approaches to solving problems. Second, I wanted to join a program that had a sizable faculty representation with varied expertise and approach. Both are true of NUIN. Many of my colleagues work in multiple labs, on both campuses, to tackle questions whose answers have evaded neuroscientists to date. That’s what is extremely exciting about NUIN. If you join two labs, as in my case, or have two mentors, or construct other arrangements that benefit the student and help address the project, NUIN promotes this and helps organize. 

What has been your best experience at Feinberg? 
I think some of the classes that I have been a part of have been very important to shaping my scientific understanding and current interests. Also, it has given me interaction with students in different programs and labs. 

How would you describe faculty at Northwestern?
The faculty at Northwestern have been very engaging and helpful in my development as a scientist. I find that the faculty who routinely are present at department seminars, outings, gatherings, retreats, and poster sessions are extremely encouraging to my progress as a PhD student, but also aid in my scientific thought process. They have provided useful feedback on experiments that I conduct as a part of my thesis project that have led to novel approaches to our Parkinson’s disease drug discovery effort.  

What do you do in your free time?
In my free time, I like to play basketball in the winter and fall, and golf during the spring and summer. I am also very interested in American politics, so I waste time and watch and read an enormous amount of political dialogue past and current.

What are your plans for after graduation?
My plans after graduation are still a bit uncertain, but my next step could include science management in industrial settings or academic post-doctoral opportunities that allow for a continued interest in neurodegeneration and drug discovery.

Connect with Garry on LinkedIn.