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Marisa Silveri, Ph.D.

silveriMarisa Silveri, Ph.D., is assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and director of the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate. Dr. Silveri recently won the RSA Young Investigator Award at the Research Society on Alcoholism's annual meeting in June 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Writer Sherry Wasilow interviewed Dr. Silveri from her office at McLean Hospital.


SW: When did you first suspect that science would be in your future?

MS: I have been interested in science since I was a child: through experiments conducted using my sister's Easy Bake Oven to designing LEGO mazes for my gerbils. It was my high school Advanced Placement biology course that truly inspired me to pursue a biology major in college.

SW: What did you study in college?

MS: During my sophomore year at Union College, I enrolled in a physiological psychology class – today it is referred to as neuroscience (see book link below) – and found my calling. What could be more fascinating to study than the biology of the brain? To me, nothing. From there, I enrolled in courses that led to graduating with a biology and psychology interdepartmental bachelor of sciences degree. I also completed a term abroad to study national health-care systems in Europe, took a hospital health-care practicum, and worked as an intern at a brain trauma center as an undergraduate student.

SW: How did your studies and these experiences help you in your research/career path?

MS: These health-care experiences opened my eyes to the fragilities of the human condition, and together with my coursework in biology and psychology, led to my realizationquote1 that I could better serve the medical field indirectly – and less emotionally – through research than as a medical doctor. Having realized that graduate school was the means to my desired end, and given my longstanding interest in adolescence and substance abuse, I applied to work with Dr. Linda Spear at SUNY Binghamton.

I enjoyed designing experiments, developing hypotheses, and meticulous data collection. My graduate work demonstrated that adolescence is a period of relative insensitivity to alcohol, which I learned was extremely relevant given that alcohol use typically begins during this time, and that age of onset of use (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-2/144-148.pdf) is a significant predictor of later abuse and dependence. I also had several opportunities to teach courses as a graduate student, which I enjoyed as much as conducting research.

SW: What came after university?

MS: As I was wrapping up my dissertation research, I began searching for academic teaching jobs. Although I was headed away from research, serendipitously, a postdoctoral position became available in the Brain Imaging Center at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and similar to an inspiring private psychiatric hospital I visited in England during my term abroad.

Thus, I transitioned from preclinical rodent research to clinical research. This allowed me to utilize cutting edge, non-invasive magnetic resonance technology (http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/magnetic-resonance-imaging-mri) in order to investigate healthy adolescent brain development as a means to understand the neurobiological and neuropsychological consequences of substance abuse, and the manifestation of dependence and psychiatric illness.

SW: Please describe your current area of research.

MS: I am now in my 12th year of conducting brain-imaging research at McLean Hospital. Currently, I direct the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health, within the Brain Imaging Center, which focuses on behavioral features of adolescent development, increased risk taking, poor decision-making, impulsivity, and reduced frontal lobe function, which overlap with features observed in substance abuse and psychiatric illness.

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http://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Science_of_Addiction
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