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Staff Spotlight: Claudia Gonzalez-Hunt, PhD

Monday, July 24, 2017
By Latasha Jeter
C Gonzalez Hunt

This week’s staff spotlight interview shines its light on Dr. Claudia Gonzalez-Hunt, PhD. Gonzalez-Hunt is a post-doctoral associate who uses her scientific research in Parkinson’s disease to translate into treatments for patients. This article discusses her interests and research in Parkinson’s disease and her passion her for making a difference in patient’s lives. 

How long have you been at Duke? How long have you been with the Neurology Department?
I came to Duke for my PhD, so I have been here for about six years. I have been at the Neurology Department since March.

What are your responsibilities within the Neurology Department? What are three words you would use to describe your job?
I am currently a post-doctoral associate. I conduct Parkinson’s disease research in the lab under Laurie Sanders, PhD. We look at the effect of mitochondrial DNA damage in Parkinson’s disease.  Our lab focuses on translational work that goes from the bench to the bedside. My job is to make discoveries in the laboratory that can be used to make treatments for patients. I work on the bench with hopes of translating my results to patients as soon as possible. My work is exciting, rewarding, and challenging.

What drew you to neurology? How did you get interested in Parkinson’s disease?
There is an interesting link between mitochondrial dysfunction and Parkinson’s disease, and while working on my PhD, I looked at the mechanisms of dopaminergic cell loss (which are the cells that degenerate in Parkinson’s) due to environmental damage to mitochondrial DNA. This disease is very complex and challenging, and as a scientist, I find it very interesting. There is also an urgent need for treatments, as currently there are really no treatments for Parkinson’s that can modify the disease progression. You can treat the symptoms but there is nothing that can modify the disease. I want to apply my knowledge in molecular biology to making a difference in patient’s lives. I came to neurology to translate my work to go from the bench to the clinic as soon as possible.

I also wanted to work with Laurie Sanders, PhD, as her scientific research deals with mitochondrial DNA damage and how it relates to Parkinson’s.  When I found out that she was coming to the neurology department, I immediately knew that I wanted to work here. I am happy to have the chance of working with her.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I like to spend time with my husband and my dog. I really love dogs and I like to volunteer at animal shelters when I have the time. I also am a bit of a ‘couch potato’. I like to stay indoors. I enjoy reading, playing video games, watching TV, anything that I can do from my couch. Sometimes I hike with my husband, but I am mostly an indoors person.