Vishakh Iyer, Ph.D.

in 2014. After graduating from the program, he worked as a Research Technologist at the Penn State College of Medicine, studying dopaminergic cell transplants, REM sleep Behaviour Disorder and levodopa induced dyskinesias in preclinical models of Parkinson’s Disease.

Vishakh became interested in Dr. Hohmann’s work on the endocannabinoid system after viewing a poster showcasing work from her lab at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference. The focus of the Hohmann Lab in developing novel therapeutic approaches that target the endocannabinoid signalling system is what drew him to the research. “I like that our lab is focused on tackling the opioid epidemic by developing novel therapeutics that can work in conjunction with opioids. My hope is that the novel combination therapies that we are testing can greatly improve the lives of people living with chronic pain and ultimately help them use opioid based therapies both safely and effectively.”, said Vishakh.

The opioid epidemic has resulted in a dramatic and profound increase in drug overdose deaths globally. While opioids are effective for acute pain management, their chronic use and abuse leads to adverse side-effects, including addiction, tolerance, physical dependence and, in extreme cases, a fatal overdose. Opioid abuse rates have increased exponentially in the past two decades in the United States and more recently have also been reported in Canada and in several countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The United States, being the world's largest consumer of opioids also accounts for a disproportionate number of both prescription and synthetic opioid-related fatalities. Recent studies also indicate that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this public health crisis.

Cannabinoid-based approaches have shown a lot of promise in this tackling the opioid unwanted side effects associated with opioid use and abuse and Vishakh’s research is focused on exploiting the crosstalk between the endogenous opioid and cannabinoid systems. His work has highlighted the potential of a clinically safe CB2 agonist in preventing opioid reward while providing anti-allodynic synergy and mitigating naloxone-precipitated opioid withdrawal. He has also developed a clinically relevant limited access volitional oral oxycodone paradigm that gives insight into the mechanisms underlying oxycodone-induced physical dependence and its neurobiological substrates. His current work is focused on allosteric modulators of the endocannabinoid system that can help reduce the signalling at the CB1 receptor to overcome opioid-mediated reward and unwanted side-effects. Ultimately, he hopes that this work may lead to the development of better therapies aimed at preventing and treating opioid abuse, thereby closing a major gap in an area of unmet therapeutic need.

Vishakh has received several prestigious awards for his research including the Best Junior Scientist Presentation at the 2021 IU Gill Symposium, the First Place at the IU Bloomington Three Minute Thesis (3MT) and the Second Place at the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools 3MT Competitions, and the First Place Poster Awards at the IU Graduate Research Symposium and the Pennsylvania Neurological Society Annual Meeting. He has also previously received the Harlan Scholars Summer Research Award thrice and the Rebec Family Neuroscience Fellowship. Receiving the Gill Fellowship, however, is special to him because it allowed him to focus exclusively on his research during the crucial last year of his PhD. He says, "Receiving the Gill fellowship gave me the opportunity to perform crucial experiments that have resulted in several publications. It also gave me the time to further explore my scientific interests by gaining exposure to new techniques and novel research avenues. I was able to publish several papers in my final year of graduate school that greatly enhanced my dissertation. Ultimately this award has allowed me to plan out a research path for what I want to pursue after graduating.”

In his free time, Vishakh enjoys reading detective fiction and historical novels. He also loves cooking and enjoys making cocktails. He is an avid soccer fan and actively follows his team, Arsenal F.C.

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