- Dr. Thomas R. Insel has been head of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for 13 years. This week, he announced that he will be leaving the agency in order to join Google Life Sciences.
- Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the umbrella organization for the NIMH and other agencies, has appointed Dr. Bruce Cuthbert as acting director until a new permanent director is found.
- Dr. Insel is the longest serving director of the NIMH since Dr. Robert H. Felix, who founded the agency in April 1949 and left his position there in 1964.
Dr. Insel is recogized for the work he has done at NIMH, which is focused on studying the most severe mental diseases, such as schizophrenia, with a particular interest in basic biology. When he came on board in 2002 and started to allocate funding in this direction, it was a departure from the previous focus, which had been more psychosocial. His approach was not one hundred percent popular, but in the last 13 years, Dr. Insel has become a leader at NIMH, who will be hard to replace. So why Google Life (soon to be Alphabet)?
Google Life is comprised of 150 scientists, including astrophysicists, theoretical mathematicians, oncologists, immunologists, electrical engineers and computer scientists. Google Life has numerous parnerships in place, including a colaboration with Novartis, focused on co-developing smart contact-lens technology for use in two areas—putting the "smart" contact lenses in the eyes of individuals with diabetes to measure glucose levels in the body, as well as helping restore autofocus capabilities in people with presbyopia. In addition, Google and Biogen Idec are partnered to investigate the underlying causes of multiple sclerosis (MS), and why it manifests differently in different people, using sensors, software and data analysis.
For his part, Dr. Insel, will be taking on various projects with a more psychosocial bent than the those he worked on at NIMH. One project that he is considering is using language analystcs to detect psychosis early, with the goal of helping get patients diagnosed—and treated—earlier. Though Dr. Insel's focus will change as he leaves NIMH and heads to Google Life, he will continue to focus on the brain and how it works.