New Program Director for the MCHRI Uytengsu-Hamilton 22q11 Neuropsychiatry Research Program

Rachael Panizzo, PhD

July 22, 2020

The Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute is pleased to announce Rachael Panizzo, PhD, has been selected as the Program Director for the Uytengsu-Hamilton 22q11 Neuropsychiatry Research Program.  Dr. Panizzo starts in her role on July 22, 2020.

Under the leadership of MCHRI, Program Faculty Leader, Katja Weinacht, MD, PhD, and the program’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), Dr. Panizzo will develop and implement the vision, strategy, and goals of the Uytengsu-Hamilton 22q11 Neuropsychiatry Research Program.  The program resides within MCHRI, serving as the administrative home for Dr. Panizzo’s position.

“We are thrilled that Rachael has joined our program.  Her background in neuroscience/ neurodevelopment, imaging and mental health, paired with her experience in managing large academic organizations make her the ideal candidate for this position,” says Dr. Weinacht, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of the Stem Cell Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine.

Dr. Panizzo will oversee the program’s scientific portfolio, strategy development, long-range planning, and partnership development to advance research in the 22q11 Deletion Syndrome (22q11 DS), a condition resulting from a small deletion on chromosome 22(qq11.2). About 1 in 2,000 to 4,000 people have 22q11 DS and can suffer from a broad spectrum of immune, endocrine and cardiac defects. Children with this disorder can present a wide range range of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric symptoms, ranging from behavioral challenges, cognitive and speech delays, and learning differences to anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, and schizophrenia.

Dr. Panizzo's role and the program were made possible by a generous gift from the Uytengsu-Hamilton family.  “Much progress has been made in elucidating the genetics and disease pathology of 22q11 DS. Stanford is a leading institution in neuroscience, stem cell biology, psychiatry, immunology and microbiology,” says Ms. Candice Uytengsu-Hamilton. “Now it is time to join forces and focus on developing therapies for the many different disease manifestations of 22q11 DS so that affected children can reach their full potential. This is the mission of the Uytengsu-Hamilton 22q11 Neuropsychiatry Research Program. Rachel is the perfect candidate to direct this mission.” 

Now it is time to join forces and focus on developing therapies for the many different disease manifestations of 22q11 DS so that affected children can reach their full potential. This is the mission of the Uytengsu-Hamilton 22q11 Neuropsychiatry Research Program. Rachel is the perfect candidate to direct this mission.

Neuroscience, mental health, and research initiatives

In her role as Program Director, Dr. Panizzo will lead and develop the research awards component of the program, including building a team of local, national, and international scientists focused on improving the cognitive-behavioral manifestations in children and young adults with 22q11 DS. 

Dr. Panizzo brings with her extensive experience in developing research programs and partnerships, managing grant funding opportunities, organizing workshops and scientific meetings, and overseeing evaluation and strategic planning. Her scientific background is in neuroscience and imaging from the University of Cambridge and University College London, Institute of Child Health. 

Most recently in her role as Program Manager for the Neurosciences and Mental Health Board at the Medical Research Council (MRC) in the U.K., Dr. Panizzo managed a portfolio of research grants, programs, and strategic investments in mental health and addiction research.  She served as the liaison for the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University, which is one of the collaborating sites of the International 22q11.2 Brain and Behavior Consortium (IBBC).

Dr. Panizzo was responsible for launching the MRC’s new research strategy for mental health, developing and implementing funding initiatives and partnerships to drive forward the plan.  She was responsible for the annual evaluation of the research portfolio and strategic initiatives.

Prior to working at MRC, Dr. Panizzo was responsible for managing the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Clinical Careers Committee, which reviews and awards clinical fellowships and grants to early career clinical researchers.  She undertook a comprehensive evaluation and strategic review of CRUK’s clinical fellowship program, developing and launching new clinical fellowships and grants to address gaps in funding that were identified.

“Dr. Panizzo is uniquely positioned to fill the role of Program Director for the Uytengsu-Hamilton 22q11.2DS Neuropsychiatry Research Program. Not only has she had experience with MRC and CRUK, but she also managed a grants portfolio for the British Medical Association (BMA) which included administration, governance and finance. While serving in this position, she developed the first research strategy for the charity, identifying gaps and opportunities in the academic medicine funding landscape,” says Donna McDonald-McGinn, MS, CGC, Director of the 22q and You Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She is the Chair of the 22q11.2 Society, Founding Board Member of the International 22q11.2 Foundation, and serves as the principal investigator of the IBBC.

Professor McDonald-McGinn further adds, "Dr. Panizzo is exceptionally qualified to take on a role that requires familiarity with the depth and breadth of the condition, a willingness to learn more, an interest in building a world-class program in collaboration with existing leaders in the field both within and external to Stanford, and an urgency in bringing discoveries as a result of this initiative from the bench to the bedside post haste, as families all around the globe are waiting impatiently.” Professor McDonald-McGinn is the principal investigator of the Genes to Mental Health Network (G2MH) and Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Research grants program

Thanks to this support from the Uytengsu-Hamilton family, the 22q11 Neuropsychiatry Research Program launched in 2019 with a mission to better understand the causes of 22q11 DS, improve the neurocognitive outcomes and behavioral symptoms associated with 22q11 DS, and help children and their families lead their lives to the fullest potential.

“We were extraordinarily fortunate to recruit Rachael to this special leadership role. Her unique combination of expertise in the neurosciences, program management, and strategic initiatives will accelerate the research advances made possible by this visionary gift,” says Mary Leonard, MD, MSCE, Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Director of MCHRI.

Through this new grant, MCHRI will award funds to Stanford investigators to support a range of scientific approaches, from basic stem cell biology to clinical translational research to integrated medicine and data science. Transdisciplinary collaborations, including faculty from different disciplines and schools, at Stanford and beyond, are highly encouraged to work on these initiatives. 

“I am delighted to welcome Rachael Panizzo in this exciting new role.  Her deep understanding of the program’s vision, coupled with her superb background, will be great assets to our maternal child health research community,” says Mary Chen, MS, MBA, executive director for MCHRI.

For more information about the program, please visit the Uytengsu-Hamilton 22q11 Neuropsychiatry Research Program website.

If you have any questions, please contact MCHRI Administration or Mary Chen.