Barbara Caldarone ’88

BarbaraCaldarone '88

BarbaraCaldarone ’88

DEGREE: B.S. in psychobiology; Ph.D. in psychology, SUNY Albany
JOB TITLE: Director, NeuroBehavior Laboratory, Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center; instructor, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: Some of my favorite memories are studying at the Trinity College Rome Campus. I had a view from my dorm window of the Circus Maximus and the Palatine Hill, and seeing those ancient sites every day created an inspiring educational environment.

REPORTER: How did you become interested in studying neurobehavior?
CALDARONE: I was always interested in how biology contributes to our behavior. But I first thought of pursuing science as a career when Dr. Priscilla Kehoe joined the Trinity staff in my sophomore year. Trinity did not have a neuroscience major at the time, but Dr. Kehoe encouraged me to combine psychology and biology into an interdisciplinary major. The psychobiology major taught me that we can understand the biological basis of neurological and psychiatric diseases and work to find cures. The hands-on experience I gained in the laboratory gave me the knowledge and confidence to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology at SUNY Albany. As part of my dissertation, we mapped regions of the mouse chromosomes that contain genes that influence learning and memory. After graduation, I did my postdoctoral work at Yale University School of Medicine studying the relationship between nicotinic receptors in the brain and depression. Before joining the NeuroBehavior Laboratory, I worked for several years in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry, where I learned not only about drug discovery but also the skills of running an effective business, which I implement in running the NeuroBehavior Laboratory.

REPORTER: Can you tell us a bit about your work at the NeuroBehavior Laboratory at the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center?
CALDARONE: The NeuroBehavior Laboratory is a state-of-the-art mouse behavior facility that was designed to support behavioral neuroscience research across the entire Harvard community. The main focus of the center is to assist researchers studying neurodegenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia. The main goal of the laboratory is to collaborate with investigators to conduct high-quality, comprehensive characterization of new mouse models of disease, to test early-stage drug candidates, and to develop new procedures and protocols for better describing and understanding neurological and psychiatric diseases. In addition to pursuing this sort of collaborative neurological research, we also function as a core facility providing the broader Harvard neurobiology community with access to equipment, technology, and expertise. We train both new and established investigators and their students and postdoctoral associates in how to use the facility to generate reliable, reproducible, accurate, and relevant data for understanding the nervous system and disease. We also use this infrastructure to seed and grow a more collaborative and supportive network of investigators across the Harvard community.

REPORTER: How did Trinity help prepare you for your career?
CALDARONE: Trinity provided incredible opportunities to gain experience working in a laboratory. For my senior thesis, I was fortunate to carry out my own independent research project studying the interactions between stress and the opioid system. This project not only provided the hands-on experience of working in a lab but also allowed me to participate in all aspects of the scientific process from study design to data analyses and interpretation. Also, Trinity professors emphasized developing creative, critical thinking, and writing skills, which are essential for a career in science.

REPORTER: What research at the laboratory makes you the most proud?
CALDARONE: Some of the most exciting research in the laboratory is the work that we’re doing on Alzheimer’s disease. We are developing new cognitive assays to help investigators test novel therapeutic interventions in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. For example, we are working with investigators to study whether antibody treatments, which target proteins in the brain that are thought to play a role in neurodegeneration and memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease, can improve cognition in our mouse models. The goal of these studies is to help bring forward the most promising therapeutics for clinical trials in humans.

REPORTER: What do you hope the NeuroDiscovery Center can achieve?
CALDARONE: The ultimate goal of the NeuroDiscovery Center is to improve the lives of people who suffer from neurodegenerative and psychiatric disease. The center is focused on finding cures and treatments for these diseases by merging the intellectual strength and academic creativity of the Harvard research community with a business-oriented approach of research facilities, including our NeuroBehavior Laboratory. Scientists who are part of the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center and many others have made great strides in understanding the underlying causes of neurodegenerative diseases. As we uncover more details of these diseases, we are confident that in time we will be able to treat and prevent them.

REPORTER: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
CALDARONE: My favorite part of the job is the opportunity to work with so many different students, postdoctoral associates, and investigators from different areas of research. As director of the NeuroBehavior Laboratory, I enjoy working alongside creative academic scientists and being able to use the project and business management skills that I learned in industry to run an efficient facility. I am confident that the efforts of the NeuroDiscovery Center will accelerate the progress of finding cures for neurodegenerative disease, and I am excited to be a part of this team effort.