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Niketa Patel, Ph.D.

  • Obesity continues to escalate as a significant public health problem and as the leading preventable cause of death. Genetic, environmental, behavioral, and socioeconomic factors cause excess weight gain and obesity. Increased proliferation and differentiation of pre-adipocytes to mature adipocytes (adipogenesis) within the fat tissues are central to obesity. Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is an integral part of the cell cycle. Research from our laboratory involves elucidation of the biochemical and molecular mechanisms in the study of adipogenesis. Protein kinase C (PKC)d, a member of the novel PKC (nPKC) subfamily, plays an important role in the regulation of cell apoptosis. The focus of this laboratory is to decipher the molecular mechanisms regulating alternative expression of PKCĀ“ isoforms. Our laboratory has recently identified a new human PKCdelta isoform generated by alternative splicing. Alternative splicing is now acknowledged as being pivotal in generating the protein diversity required to fine tune the cellular functions. Regulation of alternative splicing involves interplay of the cis-elements with the trans-acting factors such as SR proteins and hnRNPs. This is currently being investigated using molecular biology techniques and cloning of minigenes to facilitate the identification of the splicing components in this system.

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Ph.D. Students


Shelly Deforte

  • We study the structural and un-structural biology of proteins from an amino acid sequence based perspective. Both experimental evidence of intrinsically disordered regions in proteins, as well as computationally predicted regions of disorder, are used to study patterns in complete proteomes using bioinformatics approaches. Intrinsically disordered regions display different amino acid compositions, and different amino acid patterns than do structured regions. Furthermore, the distribution of intrinsic disorder throughout a protein deviates distinctively from random. Using innovative methods that exploit the unique properties of disordered regions, we are looking for subtle biomarkers of function and dysfunction within large bodies of protein sequence data. Currently, we are pursuing the role of disordered regions in enzyme function, and examining the unique properties of proteins associated with aging.

Post Docs

  • My current research focuses on understanding the role of the Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) in pancreatic cancer. It is well known that pancreatic cancer has a poor prognosis and very low 5-year survival rates. Early detection poses a challenge mainly owing to the location of this organ and a non-symptomatic progression. At the molecular level, the oncogene RAS is known to be mutated and overexpressed in this cancer and the signaling pathways are somewhat understood. Using several pancreatic cancer cells lines, our recent findings show that APP is overexpressed in most pancreatic cancer cells lines as well. Preliminary studies have shown that APP can regulate RAS transcription levels and knock down of APP can inhibit RAS protein expression. Using this information, my project aims to understand the mechanism of regulation of RAS by APP and to establish APP, its processed fragments, and associated signaling pathways as possible targets for drug development against pancreatic cancer.