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Adam Caccavano, MS

Headshot of medical student Adam Caccavano wearing a white lab coatI am a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Georgetown University, with a long-term career goal of conducting interdisciplinary and translational studies into the mechanisms underlying memory loss due to aging. I began my education in the field of physics, with a B.S. in math and physics from the University of Oregon, and a M.S. in physics from Portland State University. I have worked in a number of research environments, including molecular biology, solid-state physics, high-energy physics, and theoretical physics. I was also employed for six years as a federal physical scientist for the Bonneville Power Administration, responsible for the real-time management and modeling of the Columbia River hydropower system. My experiences at Portland State, with its strong biophysics focus, kindled my interest in applying my physics background to the brain. These diverse fields of study have had a unifying theme of understanding complex dynamic processes through the lens of physics: reducing a problem to its constituent parts and constructing a mathematical model to describe their activity through time.

Describe your research interests and how you chose this area of research.

I am interested in the cellular and network mechanisms underlying memory dysfunction that occurs with aging and neurodegeneration. I am currently in the laboratory of Dr. Stefano Vicini, applying the techniques of electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and computational modeling in order to understand how neuronal activity that is critical for memory consolidation becomes disrupted in Alzheimer's Disease. With the experimental tools available today, and the powerful transgenic mouse lines available, we are at a critical time with a unique opportunity to probe the micro-circuitry underlying neuronal function, and how this becomes disrupted in neurodegenerative disorders.

How does GHUCCTS help you to achieve your research goals and advance your career in clinical and translational research? How will the CTSA program help to advance knowledge and treatments for patients with the disease(s) you study?

The support of GHUCCTS has been instrumental to my research, supporting my stipend, providing research support to acquire the tools necessary for my computational aims, and travel support to present my preliminary findings at the FENS Forum this upcoming summer. In addition, the advanced training in scientific rigor, mentoring, responsible conduct of research, and biostatistics are preparing me for a successful career in academic research.

Why is it important to have both disciplinary and ethnic/cultural diversity in medical research? How does diversity contribute to your research? How does diversity enhance scientific discovery?

My department, the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN), includes faculty from more than 10 departments, and has from its founding emphasized both academic and cultural diversity. It is precisely these attributes that drew me to the program from the field of physics, which although an intellectually stimulating field, is largely composed of male scientists. The IPN is a program founded and still run by women scientists who are leaders in their field. Particularly in translational science, it is critical that we cater our findings to the actual clinical population, including understudied minority groups, which is made more difficult when the body of researchers is not representative of the community.

How does clinical translational research benefit our communities, both directly and indirectly?

While much of my prior research has been in basic science, the GHUCCTS program has demonstrated the importance of translational research to ensure the pre-clinical findings we observe in rodent populations have clinical relevance to human patients. The benefits of translational science are clear, and ones I hope in my career to help provide to those suffering from neurodegeneration and memory loss.

February 15, 2019