Focus on Postdoctoral Fellow: Carlotta Duncan, PhD

Carlotta DuncanHard work, high energy, and a desire to improve life characterize Buck Institute postdoctoral researcher Carlotta Duncan, PhD.

Duncan always knew she would be a scientist but early struggles with chemistry and physics “left me disheartened.” Wise counsel from a scientist uncle led her to molecular biology in 2001 as excitement was building over the mapping of the human genome.

Duncan originally focused on schizophrenia, an illness of the developing brain with no known cause. “I love studying the brain. There is so much unknown; it’s a big mystery organ,” she said with a smile. After earning her PhD, she decided to move from her native Australia to do post-doctoral work in the United States. Drawn to Huntington’s disease (HD), an inherited neurodegenerative malady with no cure, she chose the Buck Institute for the opportunity to work with leading HD researcher Lisa Ellerby, PhD. “The advantage of having studied schizophrenia first is that it required looking at whole-brain systems,” she says. That perspective informs her daily work investigating the molecular basis of HD and pursuing specific HD drug targets.

The Buck’s interactive, supportive structure also attracted her. “The point of a post doc is to explore what to do in science,” Duncan said. “Staff members are inspired about their work and post docs have access to lab managers and directors.”

Duncan loves her work but values balance. A swimmer and cyclist, she recently raised $5,000 for cancer research by completing a 100-mile bike ride. Institute colleagues also know her as the post doc who sells homemade soup in the lunch room to raise funds for charity.

Her other passion is “making science accessible” through science journalism, a complementary career path encouraged by her dad, a former copy editor. In addition, “a real inspiration is my mum’s father, Mayo Clinic physician Mark B. Coventry, who performed the first FDA-approved total hip replacement in the U.S. He wrote more than 200 papers.” Duncan keeps his photo above the computer where she does her own writing, including scripts for a Buck podcast series she initiated. To hear her interviews of Buck researchers, visit

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