Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego & Department of Medicine, Division of Genetic Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am an Associate Professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), and the Department of Medicine, Division of Genetic Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). I co-lead the Sanchez-Roige lab with Lisa, a talented British Shorthair, and Margot, a curious three-year-old. Psychiatric geneticist, with emphasis on translational research, I am passionate about identifying the biological drivers that place people at risk for developing substance use disorders and comorbid physical and mental health conditions. I am a member of several international consortiums (Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, PsycheMERGE, Externalizing Consortium, Latin American Genomics Consortium), with the goal to improve mental health by advancing and translating research in psychiatric genetics through collaboration, communication and education. I am fortunate to work with stellar colleagues, most of whom are on the editorial board of this journal!

You and your team leverage phenomic and genomic tools to unravel the biology of substance use disorders. How did you become interested in this field?
The biggest challenge in medicine and psychiatry is how to improve health. But psychiatric disorders, and particularly substance use disorders, have complex histories. They derive from a dense context – genetics, environment, and their interactions. Substance use disorders are often chronic, yet treatable conditions. But the challenging reality is that existing treatments have only limited efficacy. Over the past decade, with the advent of genome-wide association studies, the field of psychiatric genetics has offered an outpour of discoveries. We have identified more than 200 genetic loci across a range of substance use disorders, and the list is expanding each year. Suddenly, there may be a cause for optimism that genetic research may impact clinical arenas and have important implications for diagnosis and treatment of such devastating conditions. Can genetics inform opportunities for “precision psychiatry”? Can we identify genetic variants that could serve as novel therapeutic targets? Can we, through our genomic discoveries, educate and reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorders? The ability to address these questions, and make an impact on the health of patients and their loved ones, is what attracted me to this field.

For more details visit the Sanchez-Roige Lab’s webpage and check their latest publications in Complex Psychiatry:

Identifying High-Risk Comorbidities Associated with Opioid Use Patterns Using Electronic Health Record Prescription Data
Jennings M.V. · Lee H. · Rocha D.B. · Bianchi S.B. · Coombes B.J. · Crist R.C. · Faucon A.B. · Hu Y. · Kember R.L. · Mallard T.T. · Niarchou M. · Poulsen M.N. · Straub P. · Urman R.D. · Walsh C.G. · PsycheMERGE Substance Use Disorder Workgroup · Davis L.K. · Smoller J.W. · Troiani V. · Sanchez-Roige
Complex Psychiatry (DOI:10.1159/000525313)

Accelerating Opioid Use Disorders Research by Integrating Multiple Data Modalities
Bianchi S.B. · Jeffery A.D. · Samuels D.C. · Schirle L. · Palmer A.A. · Sanchez-Roige S.
Complex Psychiatry (DOI:10.1159/000525079)

In the last few years phenomic and genomic tools have greatly impacted all areas of biological and medical research. What would you say has been the greatest impact in the field of psychiatry? And/or, what do you envision for the field of Psychiatry now that these techniques are available and being optimized?
Decades of family and twin studies have indisputably established that psychiatric disorders have a familial and heritable component. The disappointing reality is that, unlike Mendelian disorders, mental illnesses are extremely complex, reflecting the interplay of hundreds to thousands of genetic loci and environmental factors conferring risk. With the advent of genome-wide association studies, we have seen new and fascinating insights into the complex etiology of mental illness. We have learned that psychiatric disorders are extremely polygenic (omnigenic, even), including the full spectrum of common DNA variation. We have identified specific genetic loci for virtually all major psychiatric disorders. The biggest revelation has been the finding that these risk loci are shared across psychiatric and even somatic disorders. Such findings demonstrate that our clinical nosology does not align with the underlying biology (as it is often said, “the genes have not read the DSM”) and suggest new ways to define and potentially treat mental disorders. These discoveries have been propelled by several key advances. Perhaps the most important one was the development of “team science” through the formation of large consortia efforts. But we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

To fully realize the potential of pharmacogenetics and precision medicine, we will need to address several major gaps. Although we have successfully mapped hundreds of loci associated with complex disorders, we need new tools, longitudinal and diverse datasets to shed new light on disease psychopathology. The advent of single-cell transcriptomics and other -omics, the availability of new tools for functional and imaging genomics, and the development of methods that account for how genetic variants (common, and rare) interact with environmental factors, will provide new windows into the biology of psychiatric disorders possibly sooner than we realize.

You are an active Member of the Editorial Board of Complex Psychiatry. What made you consider this role? Does it affect your other professional roles? How?
In March 2020, Drs. Gelernter and Polimanti (editors-in-chief) invited me to support and continue to grow Complex Psychiatry. I joined the board, in a heartbeat, for two reasons. First, dissemination of results is paramount to the scientific community. Serving on editorial boards that align with my research is my responsibility as a scientist. Second, the editors and the members of the editorial board are leaders in the field. Therefore, being exposed to this vibrant community inspires me to make better science! As a member of the editorial board, I help assist with the vision and content of the journal. I am exceedingly grateful to be able to showcase my work in this pioneering journal.

If you had to endorse Complex Psychiatry to a colleague in only a couple of sentences, what would you highly recommend?
With a stellar editorial board committed to rapid communication, Complex Psychiatry showcases the hard, multi-disciplinary work of dedicated scientists and trainees with the common goal of cracking the code of psychiatric disorders.

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