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Kenneth Kendler, M.D., professor in the VCU School of Medicine, has published 1,299 works and been cited more than 125,000 times. (School of Medicine)

VCU’s Kenneth Kendler achieves No. 1 lifetime ranking among published psychiatry scholars

Analytics site ScholarGPS, which tracks more than 30 million scholars worldwide, says Kendler’s work has been cited more than 125,000 times.

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Kenneth Kendler, M.D., doesn’t love attention — he says he finds it “a little embarrassing.” But as a world-renowned researcher from his pioneering studies in psychiatric genetics, the Virginia Commonwealth University professor has continued to rake in the accolades throughout his decades-long career. The latest speaks to his legacy.

Kendler has long been among the top five most-cited researchers in the field, and in September 2023, he achieved the No. 1 lifetime ranking from ScholarGPS, which analyzes researchers and their publications based on productivity, impact and quality. The ScholarGPS database covers more than 30 million scholars in more than 200 counties, and the company said Kendler has published 1,299 works and been cited more than 125,000 times.

News of the No. 1 ranking did not come as a surprise, Kendler said, but it did mark an opportunity to share credit with the many collaborators who helped him achieve it.

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

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 use disorders. His collaborators include multidisciplinary colleagues at VCU’s School of Medicine, where Kendler is the Rachel Brown Banks Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, and across the campus, including dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows as well as scientists around the globe.

Building connections

Kendler graduated from medical school in 1977 and completed his psychiatry residency in 1980, but it wasn’t long before he 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 more than a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles on the etiological role of both genetic and environmental factors in psychiatric disorders.

The two went on to co-found the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics at VCU in 1996. More than a quarter-century later, with Kendler still at the helm, the VIPBG continues its multidisciplinary research devoted to understanding the etiology of psychiatric and substance use disorders.

The success of these early collaborations at VCU would prove to be the first of many – not only locally but around the globe. 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 in the U.S. to identifying the genetic causes of depression in a population of women from South Korea. In partnership with researchers at Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, VCU and the National University of Taiwan, Kendler helps run the Asian Bipolar Genetics Network, a study of more than 28,000 cases of bipolar disorder throughout Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, India and Pakistan. Kendler is responsible for setting up and supervising the high-quality clinical evaluation of participants.

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

Robert Findling, M.D., chair of VCU’s 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 who are also making pivotal contributions to genetics.”

Where research meets clinical care

In the ever-changing field of psychiatric research, Kendler 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 ‘gray-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 he noted VCU’s 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.”