Understanding The Etiology of Psychiatric Illnesses

Kenneth Kendler, M.D. is Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Human and Molecular Genetics as well as one of the founders of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics. In collaboration with Lindon Eaves, Ph.D., Dr. Kendler created VIPBG in 1996 as an effort to bring together expert psychiatrists, statisticians, and molecular geneticists under one roof, where he currently serves as Director.

Throughout his career, Dr. Kendler has published over 850 articles, making him one of the highest cited psychiatry researchers. He has also made many other significant and impressive contributions to the field, such as developing a large population-based study of Virginian twins, chairing the scientific review committee for DSM-5, and mentoring a number of pre-doctoral and post-doctoral trainees, many of whom are now leaders in the field. Because of these substantial contributions, Dr. Kendler has been honored with a number of awards and honors, including the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics Lifetime Achievement Award and most recently, the Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health, a prestigious award from the Academy of Medicine.

Dr. Kendler’s deep commitment to understanding the etiology of psychiatric illnesses began when he was a medical student, where he was initially captured by psychiatry because of early experiences with patients suffering from schizophrenia. He was fascinated by how the brain could dysfunction in such a way to produce these symptoms and how they seemed to aggregate in families. Then, after taking a class in behavioral genetics and reading Douglas Falconer’s Introduction to Quantitative Genetics, Dr. Kendler decided he wanted to devote his career to psychiatric genetics.

Dr. Kendler currently has a wide range of research and academic interests. He is interested in both genetic epidemiological studies and molecular genetic studies to understand the genetic and environmental contributions to internalizing and externalizing disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. In addition to his research interests, his other academic activities involve psychiatric nosology and the philosophy of science.

Outside of work, Dr. Kendler found raising his three children to be one of the most rewarding things he has done, and accordingly enjoys spending time with his family. He also enjoys hiking in remote areas, such as the High Sierra, being outdoors, biking, running, and reading Shakespeare. Finally, he is interested in religious studies and satisfies this interest by reading the Hebrew Bible.


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