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Former NIMH Scientist Gillin Mourned

Dr. J. Christian Gillin, former researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, renowned sleep specialist and professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and the Veterans Affairs San Diego Health System, died of esophageal cancer on Sept. 13. He was 65. Gillin turned even this personal misfortune into a positive opportunity, lecturing to medical students at UCSD on the subject of death and dying and sharing his experiences and insights.

He graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude, earned his M.D. at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and completed psychiatric training at Stanford University Medical Center.

Dr. J. Christian Gillin
Early in his career at NIMH, Gillin studied the psychosis and the hallucinations of schizophrenia. He then headed a sleep laboratory and began the work that would remain his career focus. Following 12 years at NIMH (1971-1982), he joined the UCSD faculty. He liked to say that he viewed psychological disorders through "neurobiological windows." He used the principles and techniques of neuropharmacology and chronobiological research to approach the treatment of mood disorders.

The antidepressant effects of sleep deprivation in depressed patients always struck Gillin as a neglected area; it was the only method known in which depression could be reversed within hours. He saw that sleep deprivation was an excellent experimental model for the study of antidepressant treatments and could lead to the development of more rapidly acting antidepressants. Gillin also worked on studies of chronobiology and bright light treatment for depression, immunological relationships to sleep and the persisting sleep abnormalities of patients with depression and with alcohol abuse.

Gillin's contributions to psychiatric research are reflected in over 500 scientific publications and one book. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Neuropsychopharmacology, and served on the editorial boards of nine journals. He served as U.S. Naval Reserve captain. In 2001, he received the American Academy of Sleep Medicine's Lifetime Achievement Award and the Sleep Research Society's Distinguished Scientist Award. The society called attention not only to his original scientific contributions, but also to the great accomplishment of the number of students he trained and the next generation of sleep researchers who can trace their scientific roots back to him.

Gillin had an unquenchable scientific curiosity coupled with a fundamental dignity, humanity and positive approach to life. He enjoyed and inspired people, collaborated with everyone and worked across many disciplines to help ill individuals. Three years ago, after his illness was diagnosed, UCSD hosted a Festschrift to recognize Gillin's impact on the fields of sleep, mood disorders and chronobiology. The event was attended by nearly 200 scientists from the U.S. and around the world, attesting to his scholarship, international leadership and lasting friendships.

Gillin is survived by his wife, Dr. Frances Gillin, a UCSD professor of pathology and former NIH researcher, and their children, Peter Daniel Gillin and John Lorin Gillin.

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