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.

“I am from Taiwan, which means in addition to learning neuroscience, I also need to learn the language and culture of the United States. Iowa, especially the neuroscience program, provides me with an extremely friendly environment in which to learn. People in the program are warm, open-minded, and very willing to help me with my language questions, culture shock, homesickness, etc. In Taiwan, we say, “When you are home, you rely on your family; when you are not home, you rely on your friends. ” I made many friends in Iowa. In school, we help each other with classes and research. After school, we go out together, play sports together, and every once in a while, travel together (to nearby big cities and to conferences). Pursuing a Ph.D. degree is a long and difficult process. I am so glad that I came to Iowa for my degree because my friends and advisers here have been the always, most immediate, and most helpful support to me.”