Kelvin C Luk, PhD

faculty photo
Research Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Department: Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Graduate Group Affiliations

Contact information
3600 Spruce St
1 Maloney Building
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Office: 215-615-3202
Fax: 215-615-3206
Lab: 215-662-3292
BSc (Microbiology and Immunology)
McGill University, 1997.
PhD (Pathology)
McGill University, 2004.
MTR (Translational Research)
University of Pennsylvania, 2013.
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Description of Research Expertise

My research aims to improve our understanding of Parkinson’s disease (PD), a progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects over 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. alone, and for which there is currently no cure. Over the past 10 years, efforts have been focused on three major themes in PD:

1) Role of Protein Misfolding in PD: Histopathological, genetic, and experimental evidence suggest that the aggregation and accumulation of alpha-synuclein (α-Syn), the primary component of Lewy bodies, underlies the symptoms seen in PD. Through the development of novel biophysical, cell-based, and animal models, my work has sought to indentify factors that initiate α-Syn misfolding. Recently, we have demonstrated that aggregated forms of α-Syn are transmissible entities that propagate and spread throughout the brain in a manner akin to prion diseases. This exciting discovery represents a significant shift in our understanding of PD etiology and progression.

2) PD Drug Discovery: Present PD treatments provide temporary relief to motor impairments but do not alter the neurodegenerative process. In collaboration with UPenn’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research Drug Discovery unit headed by Dr. Kurt Brunden, I have been developing high-throughput screening assays to identify small molecules and biologics that inhibit the formation of abnormal α-syn species.

3) Biology of Midbrain Dopamine Neurons: PD is primarily a movement disorder that results from the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the midbrain. The reasons why this subpopulation is particularly vulnerable in PD is unclear. By characterizing the pathways that govern their development and maintenance, we and others have shown that a susceptible dopamine cells are defined by specific transcription factors that regulate their survival in adulthood.

Selected Publications

Volpicelli-Daley LA, Luk KC, Lee VMY: Addition of exogenous α-Synuclein Pre-formed fibrils to Primary Neuronal Cultures to seed recruitment of endogenous α-Synuclein to Lewy body and Lewy Neurite-like aggregates. Nature Protocols 9: 2135-2146, August 2014.

Tran HT, Chung CH, Iba M, Zhang B, Trojanowski JQ, Luk KC, Lee VMY: Alpha-synuclein immunotherapy blocks uptake and templated propagation of misfolded a-synuclein and neurodegeneration. Cell Reports 7: 2054-65, June 2014.

Luk KC, Lee VMY: Modeling Lewy pathology propagation in Parkinson's disease. Parkinsonism & related disorders 20 Suppl 1: S85-7, Jan 2014.

J.H. Kordower, Y. Chu, S. Muller, A. Tavares, O. Barret, G. Alagille, J. Seibyl, G. Tamagnan, K.Marek, K. Luk, J.Q. Trojanowski, V.M.Y. Lee.: Intrastriatal alpha synuclein preformed fibrils in rhesus monkeys: long-term imaging and neuropathologic changes. Society for Neuroscience, Washington D.C. 2014.

I.M. Sandoval, K. C. Luk, S. Celano, B. Daley, N. Marckini, J.Q. Trojanowski, V. M. Lee, K. L. Paumier, T. J. Collier : The effects of aging on the spread of alpha-synuclein pathology in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease. Society for Neuroscience, Washington D.C. 2014.

V. Tapias, X. Hu, K.C. Luk, V.M.Y. Lee, J.T. Greenamyre: Exogenous administration of human synthetic α-synuclein fibrils induce Parkinson-like degeneration. Society for Neuroscience, Washington D.C. 2014.

K.L. Paumier, C. Justman, K.C. Luk, , S. Celano1, T. Ramnarine1, J.Q. Trojanowski, V.M.Y. Lee, C.E. Sortwell, P. Lansbury, T.J. Collier: Tricyclic antidepressants reduce alpha-synuclein accumulation in two distinct animal models of Parkinsonism. Society for Neuroscience, Washington D.C. 2014.

K. DeDuck, M. Descoteaux, K.C. Luk, B.J. Bedell: In vivo MRI reveals early structural changes in a mouse model of α-synucleinopathy. Society for Neuroscience, Washington D.C. 2014.

T.N. Martinez, M. Sasner, M.T. Herberth, R.C. Switzer III, S.O. Ahmad, K.C. Luk, S. Ramboz, A.E. Kudwa, D. Kirik, J. Flores, R. Mandel, R.J. Samulski, J. Greiger, D. Dismuke, L. Nisi, S.S. Das, M.A. Frasier, K.D. Dave: Characterization, comparison, and cross-validation of in vivo alpha-synuclein models of parkinsonism. Society for Neuroscience, Washington D.C. 2014.

Luk KC, Rymar VV, van den Munckhof P, Nicolau S, Steriade C, Bifsha P, Drouin J, Sadikot AF: The transcription factor Pitx3 is expressed selectively in midbrain dopaminergic neurons susceptible to neurodegenerative stress. Journal of Neurochemistry 125(9): 932, June 2013.

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Last updated: 12/04/2014
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