‘Science that you can eat’
Alumna Miranda Scalabrino, PhD ’16, develops sight-saving gene therapies by day and tasty recipes by night
ITALIAN AMERICAN SCIENTIST Miranda Scalabrino, PhD ’16, has three loves: science, baking and amaretto. When she’s not studying gene therapies for inherited blindness as a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke University School of Medicine, she can be found running North Carolina-based business Oak City Amaretto with her husband, Anthony, and pouring their liqueur, based on his grandmother’s recipe, into sweet treats like lemon bars.
“It’s like science that you can eat,” she said. “It’s so fun.”
Raised in Alabama, Scalabrino came to UF from Auburn University in 2012 intending to pursue a microbiology degree with a human disease connection. But after learning about UF’s extensive gene therapy opportunities and rotating through the lab of ophthalmology professor William W. Hauswirth, PhD, she switched to the genetics concentration under Shannon E. Boye, PhD ’06, and found her place in the world of research.
Scalabrino said Boye was “like a big sister” to her, and the retinal bipolar cells she studied were captivating. Scalabrino still keeps a wood carving of one on her desk at Duke.
“I found it fascinating,” she said. “They’re so beautiful.”
Managing the amaretto business alongside her husband is no small feat on top of her academic responsibilities, but Scalabrino said it is strangely similar to running a lab. Jokingly titled the chief scientific officer of the company, she helped convert the small family amaretto recipe to mass production measurements and ran experiments to test different ingredients when COVID-19 pandemic shortages impacted the availability of their usual options.
Scalabrino, who was awarded a 2021-22 science communication fellowship from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology while she was completing her postdoctoral research, said she hopes to someday run her own ocular gene therapy lab with diverse students and colleagues. As a female scientist who felt fortunate to have a female PhD adviser, she said inclusivity is at the forefront of her plans for the future.
“Science is not a finite resource,” she said. “We all benefit if we bring everybody to the table.”
For now, Scalabrino said, she has a cat and a chocolate Labrador retriever, who became part of the family when she told her husband she wanted her own lab. The couple aims to expand Oak City Amaretto beyond North Carolina, with Florida being next on the list.
From left to right: Scalabrino, middlw, with her doctoral mentor, Shannon Boye, PhD, and postdoctoral mentor, Greg Field, PhD, at the Cold Spring Harbor Labs course “Vision: A Platform for Linking Circuits, Behavior, and Perception” in 2019; Scalabrino, second from the right, at her UF College of Medicine graduation in 2016; and Scalabrino and her husband kissing beneath a sword arch at their wedding in 2015.