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Geneticist joins Beyster Center

Jonathan Sebat, Ph.D., a pioneering young geneticist whose focus is psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, has been named the first chief of the Beyster Center for Molecular Genomics of Neuropsychiatric Diseases at UCSD.

The Beyster Center was initiated with a gift from philanthropists Betty and J. Robert Beyster, Ph.D.

Sebat recently joined the UCSD Departments of Psychiatry and Cellular & Molecular Medicine as an assistant professor. He was previously on the faculty at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where he was a founding member of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Genomics.

While at Cold Springs Harbor, Sebat led landmark studies linking variations in the genetic code, specifically in the number of gene copies within the genome (called copy number variants, or CNVs) to mental illness. His team demonstrated that CNVs are an underlying factor in autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and that such mutations can substantially increase risk for other diseases.

In his new role, Sebat will lead clinicians and scientists, whose expertise ranges from psychiatry and cellular and molecular medicine to other clinical and basic sciences, in cross-disciplinary studies aimed at advancing the understanding and management of mental illness.

The Beysters explained their motivation for supporting the Center’s work, “Despite years of interest, the cause and cure for schizophrenia is not yet understood. Drugs that help manage the disease are available, but many have negative side effects, and they fall far short of a solution.”

The team’s research collaborations will include a focus on “personalized” medicine, based on genetic material acquired from individuals to identify patient-by-patient genetic glitches that could lead to the development of disease.