Dr. Kenneth Kendler achieves ‘No. 1 lifetime ranking’ status among all psychiatry scholars worldwide

ScholarGPS, an analytics site that ranks more than 30 million scholars across the globe, calculated that Kendler's work has been cited at least 125,000 times.

Kenneth Kendler, M.D., achieved the ‘No. 1 lifetime ranking’ status among all psychiatry scholars worldwide from ScholarGPS. Photo by VCU School of Medicine.

By Anthony DePalma VCU School of Medicine anthony.depalma@vcuhealth.org

October 13, 2023

Kenneth Kendler, M.D., doesn't love attention — he finds it "a little embarrassing." But as a world-renowned researcher who's known for his pioneering studies in psychiatric genetics, he has raked in accolades throughout his decades-long career. He's been a top-five most cited researcher in the field for years, and in September 2023, he achieved the No. 1 lifetime ranking status from ScholarGPS, which analyzes researchers and their publications based on their productivity, impact and quality.  

According to ScholarGPS, Kendler has published 1,299 works and been cited more than 125,000 times. The news of his No. 1 ranking did not come as a surprise, he said, but it did lend an opportunity to share the achievement with the many collaborators who helped him get there. 

“As is often the case with science, there is someone who gets to stand in the spotlight, but there were many other people throughout my career who helped me get here,” Kendler said, “and I am so grateful to each and every one of them.” 

Those collaborators include multidisciplinary colleagues here at the School of Medicine and across VCU, dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows over the years and scientists at institutions around the globe. Throughout his 40 years at VCU, Kendler and his co-investigators have researched how molecular genetics, coupled with environmental factors, lead to psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse disorders. 

This designation is the culmination of decades of work by Kendler and his colleagues. It exemplifies VCU School of Medicine’s role as a leader in mental health care and research, and it is just another achievement in a long, robust career to which Kendler is still fully committed.

Building Connections

After graduating from medical school in 1977 and completing his psychiatry residency in 1980, it wasn’t long before Kendler decided to shift his focus from clinical care and biological psychiatry to studying psychiatric genetics.  

“I was a fairly young man, and I left behind the field that, at that time, was seen as the more high-profile,” Kendler said. “I took a risk, which is rather unlike me.”  

The risk has paid off. After joining the VCU School of Medicine faculty in the Department of Psychiatry in 1983, he and Lindon Eaves, Ph.D., D.Sc., from the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics, co-authored over a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles on the etiological role of both genetic and environmental factors on psychiatric disorders. The two then went on to cofound the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics (VIPBG) in 1996. More than a quarter of a century later, with Kendler still at the helm, the VIPBG continues its multidisciplinary research devoted to understanding the etiology of psychiatric and substance abuse disorders. 

The success of these early collaborations at VCU would prove to be the first of many, not only locally, but around the globe as well. Kendler’s international research continues to this day, including three major projects funded by the National Institutes of Health that are centered on molecular genetics. These investigations range from data collection on severe alcoholism here in the U.S. to a identifying the genetic causes of depression in a population of women from South Korea. In partnership with researchers at Harvard, MIT, John’s Hopkins, VCU and the National University of Taiwan, Kendler helps run the Asian Bipolar Genetics Network (A-BIG-NET), a study of over 28,000 cases of bipolar disorder throughout Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, India and Pakistan where he is responsible for setting up and supervising the high-quality clinical evaluation of the participants. 

“These collaborations have been some of the most satisfying of my professional and personal experiences,” Kendler said.  

Robert Findling, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry, noted that Kendler’s achievements are about more than his abilities as a researcher.

“Besides Dr. Kendler’s groundbreaking work and one-of-a-kind accomplishments as an individual, he has contributed a great deal in other ways,” Findling said. “As director of the VIPBG, Dr. Kendler has demonstrated outstanding leadership. He has recruited and led a great group of scientists that are also making pivotal contributions to genetics.”

Where research meets clinical care

Looking ahead into the ever-changing field of psychiatric research, Kendler continues to lead a broad range of studies and expand his reach to new corners of the globe. To accomplish this, he sees a need for more researchers with medical backgrounds who can draw on their clinical experiences and strengths, and he tries to “teach this to young physicians.”  

“We have an aging physician workforce. There are more and more grey hairs like me, so I try to tell people about the unique position you’re in as a research physician,” Kendler said. “You can bring this capacity to take the more basic sciences, not to always be the expert or to compete to be the best, but you can take their results, collaborate, integrate and ask questions that they are not able to do with the lack of a clinical background.” 

Kendler remains optimistic and noted that VCU School of Medicine has always supported his efforts. 

“To maintain a high quality academic medical center, you have to balance the research,” Kendler said. “By having scientists conduct their research, while also training students and residents, you get a better quality of clinical care, and the School of Medicine’s values are one of commitment to both research and care.” 


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