Dr. Robert K. Naviaux, MD, PhD

Dr. Naviaux is Professor of Genetics in the Departments of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Pathology at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine.

He is the founder and co-director of the Mitochondrial and Metabolic Disease Center (MMDC) at UCSD, and a specialist in human genetics and Mitochondrial Medicine. He is a former President of the Mitochondrial Medicine Society (MMS). Dr. Naviaux is the Director of the Metabolomics Core for the Veterans Affairs Center for Excellence in Stress and Mental Health (CESAMH).

Dr. Naviaux solved a 70-year old medical mystery when he discovered the cause of the oldest Mendelian form of mitochondrial disease, called Alpers Syndrome. He was also the first to develop a DNA gene test to diagnose it.

In 2011, Dr. Naviaux was the recipient of one of three international “Trailblazer” awards from Autism Speaks for his groundbreaking research on the connection between mitochondria and autism. He is the inventor of the Purinergic Theory of Autism and the first to describe the concerted metabolic features of the cell danger response (CDR). His paper on purinergic signaling in a mouse model of autism was the #1 paper on autism research in the world in 2013 ranked on the Simons Foundation website.

Dr. Naviaux trained in marine ecosystems biology and oceanography as a member of the Cal Echoes expedition of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) in 2010. He trained in cancer immunology and Natural Killer cell biology at the National Institutes of Health under Howard Holden and Ronald Herberman, and biochemistry at Georg-August University in Göttingen, Germany, under Prof. Dr. Harnischfeger.
Dr. Naviaux is a former A.P. Giannini medical scholar and was named a National Medical Resident of the Year by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1990 after his residency sponsored by the Clinical-Investigator Pathway of the American Board of Internal Medicine at UC Davis. He has worked in India as a former Fogarty International Fellow. He trained in gene therapy and virology with Dr. Inder Verma at the Salk Institute. He did subspecialty training in pediatrics and clinical biochemical genetics with Dr. William Nyhan, and neurometabolic disease with Dr. Richard Haas at UCSD. He has been the PI for over 20 IRB-approved human subjects protocols at UCSD since 1995, and a co-investigator on half a dozen others.
He has worked with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and received several investigator-initiated, investigational new drug (IND) approvals.
Dr. Naviaux is a former scientific advisory council member of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF), and holds international advisory council positions with the Association Française contre les Myopathies, Plateforme Maladies Rares (AFM—The French Muscular Dystrophy and Rare Disease Council), and has been an advisor for NASA, DARPA, the Bernard Foundation for the Prevention of Youth Suicide, and the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN) in the United States.

Dr. Naviaux’s lab has developed a number of advanced technologies for the life sciences. He is the inventor of the popular pCL retroviral gene transfer vectors. He and his colleagues developed biocavity laser spectroscopy and mtDNA mutation detection by mass spectrometry. He has invented new methods for isolating DNA from beach sand and ocean core sediments for gene discovery and molecular reconstructions of modern and ancient ecosystems. His group has developed new tools in mass spectrometry to dissect the metabolic signatures of health and disease, and to predict the risk of future disease complications. His discovery of how the brain controls metabolism is changing how we understand chronic diseases as varied as autism, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), diabetes, autoimmune disorders, Parkinson, Alzheimer disease, and cancer.

His research has revealed startling connections between our food chain and environmental health, mitochondrial metabolism, innate immunity, and the rising tide of childhood neuroimmune, neurodevelopmental, and mental health disorders in the US and around the world.

Dr. Naviaux’s research career spans 35 years and embraces the fields of genetics, gene therapy, virology, biochemistry, mitochondrial medicine, metabolism, immunology, cancer, neuroscience, diabetes, development, marine metagenomics, mass spectrometry, environmental impacts on human health, and evolutionary ecosystems dynamics.

5 October 2014