Robert Philibert, MD, PhD

Summary statement: 

Behavioral genetics

Office phone: 
(319) 353-4986
Office number: 
Office building: 

The Psychiatric Genetics Laboratory is located on the first-floor of the Medical Education Building.  The laboratory is headed by Rob Philibert M.D. Ph.D., a Professor of Psychiatry, a member of both the Neuroscience and Genetics Program, and adjunct faculty member of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. The laboratory personnel are an eclectic mix of full-time research assistants, graduate students, database managers and work-study students.

The primary focus of the laboratory group is to generate a translational understanding of substance use and to increase the effectiveness of substance use interventions. We approach this task through two methods. The first is to devise more effective clinical interventions. The second is to better understand the molecular biology and generate clinically useful biomarkers. Already, our laboratory is perhaps the leading laboratory in the world for understanding the epigenetic effects of tobacco, alcohol and cannabis use on DNA methylation. These discoveries have led to the development of novel biomarkers and the founding of a diagnostic biomarker company (Behavioral Diagnostics; Through iterative interactions with our clinical collaborators, we continue to better define the biology and clinical phenomena of substance use.  Our group is actively engaged in academic and commercial ventures to use this biological information to improve clinical response to substance use interventions.

A secondary focus the laboratory is to understand the role of genetic variation and gene-environment interactions in genesis behavioral disorders. In particular, our laboratory group has a broad portfolio in the role of VNTRs in the serotonin transporter (5HTTLPR), dopamine receptor (DRD4) and MED12 in etiology of psychiatric illness.

The laboratory is well-equipped to pursue these tasks. It is fully equipped for translational genetics. Major pieces of equipment include a Fluidigm Biomark genetic analysis system,an epifluorescence microscope capable of 3-D imaging, a Biomek 3000 liquid handling robot and an Applied Biosystems 7900 HT real-time machine, two cell culture hoods, and a number of state-of-the-art thermal cyclers, incubators and centrifuges. The in-house clinical resources are extremely large and include approximately 30,000 DNA samples, 3000 human cell lines and 4000 paired DNA/Sera collections from well-characterized subjects from longitudinal studies.

“What convinced me to attend Iowa was the Neuroscience Program. There's a deep commitment to neuroscience research at the University of Iowa, and it's reflected in the strength of the Neuroscience Program. Annually, it's ranked as one of the highest doctoral programs at the university, and the ongoing research conducted by the faculty and students is excellent. The interdisciplinary aspect of the program is tremendous for one's graduate education. There's a conflux of molecular/cellular, cognitive, systems, and behavioral research in the program and it really allows each student in the program to gain a broad spectrum of skills and knowledge in the field of neuroscience. But, the program was also attractive to me for reasons outside of the curriculum and research. From the moment I arrived on campus, the program has felt like a family. Students help each other out, and offer a great support system. And after several years of being in the program, I can undoubtedly say, Iowa was the perfect choice for me.”