Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Thomas Insel, M.D., Resigns as Director of NIMH

After serving 13 years as director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Thomas Insel, M.D., will step down effective November 1. Insel first worked at NIMH from 1980 to 1994 in the Division of Intramural Research and then returned as director in 2002. 

“Dr. Insel provided excellent leadership of NIMH during this critical time in mental health research,” said APA President RenĂ©e Binder, M.D. “During his tenure, NIMH has spearheaded the BRAIN initiative [Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies] and other major research efforts. We look forward to assisting the Obama administration as it works to identify the next director.”

Insel has overseen NIMH during a period of remarkable advances in the understanding of the brain and the genetic and neurobiological underpinnings of mental illness, as well as in clinical research to improve treatment of mental illness. His leadership has helped to advance an appreciation of mental disorders as complex illnesses involving genes, interrelated neurocircuitry, environment, and behavior. He has also been instrumental in the movement toward early identification of mental illness, recognizing that many of the most serious disorders begin well before they typically come to clinical attention. 

In a statement posted on the website of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., said that under Insel’s leadership, NIMH has “nurtured a culture of science that puts the needs of patients with serious mental illness at the center of its efforts.” 

In addition to the BRAIN initiative, among other major initiatives in which he has been involved are the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, which involves over 500 researchers in over 80 institutions across 25 countries; the Army STARRS (Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers) project, an unprecedented partnership between NIH and the Department of Defense that is the largest study of mental health risk and resilience ever conducted among military personnel; the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR), considered the most significant repository for autism-related data; and RAISE (Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Effort), an NIMH research effort that seeks to change the trajectory and prognosis of schizophrenia through coordinated and aggressive early treatment. 

Collins noted that Insel is planning to join the Google Life Sciences (GLS) team at Alphabet (formerly Google) to lead a new effort that will focus on mental health. The GLS mission is to create technology for earlier detection, better prevention, and more effective management of serious health conditions. In his new role, Insel will be exploring this approach for a wide spectrum of issues in mental health, Collins said. 

“We congratulate Dr. Insel on his service to NIMH and the nation,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “His new opportunity at Alphabet will increase mental health field advances well into the future, and we at APA look forward to continuing to work with him.

During the search for a successor, Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D., will serve as acting director. 


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