Untangling Mental Illness

Winter 2016

Not long ago, many scientists expected that schizophrenia might be associated with a small set of genetic variants with a straightforward inheritance pattern.

Douglas Ruderfer, ‘04, MS ‘05, and his colleagues, however, have helped to dispel that model: The disease is actually associated with thousands of variants scattered across the genome. The vast majority of these variants convey only a slightly increased risk for developing schizophrenia.

Ruderfer, currently on the faculty at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, has contributed to several major papers on the genetics of schizophrenia and other psychiatric illnesses.

Before coming to Mount Sinai, Ruderfer worked for several years at high-profile genetics labs at Princeton University and the Broad Institute (at MIT and Harvard). In 2013, he completed a PhD at Cardiff University in Wales. The British Council recently honored him with a 2015 Education UK Alumni Awards’ Entrepreneurial Award, given annually to distinguished graduates of British universities.

Among Ruderfer’s current projects: using recent genetic findings to identify molecular targets for potential new psychiatric medications. “The picture is very complicated,” he says. “But we did identify that particular proteins and pathways contribute to these disorders, and that’s given us new headway toward thinking about treatments.”