Dhaval Patel, Ph.D.
Research: Few people are aware that Parkinson’s disease (PD) and malignant melanoma are related diseases. For example, individuals who have malignant melanoma have a >2-fold higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease; conversely individuals who have Parkinson’s disease have a statistically significant high risk of developing melanoma.
We are studying the neuronal protein alpha-synuclein, which is a protein of unknown function that has been linked to Parkinson’s disease. Curiously, alpha-synuclein is also expressed in melanocytes and in aggressive melanomas; therefore, this unusual protein probably also is linked to cancer. We are following several leads that point to alpha-synuclein affecting the intracellular trafficking of iron regulatory proteins. Our research group uses yeast, human cells in culture, and mice to test hypotheses. We also collaborate with scientists who use the nematode C. elegans to model Parkinson’s disease. Overall, we seek to elucidate the function of alpha-synuclein as it pertains to both neurodegeneration and cancer.