Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - September/October 2012 - (Page 6)

in my own words rethinking Mental illness THOMAS INSEL, MD Director, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Thomas Insel began his career as a researcher at NIMH, where he conducted groundbreaking studies in the biology of obsessive compulsive disorder and in the neurobiology of complex social behaviors. He went on to direct the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University, a position he held for five years before becoming the founding director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and, concurrently, director of Emory’s Center for Autism Research. In 2002 he was appointed director of NIMH, where he has focused on practical clinical trials, autism research, the role of genetics in mental illnesses, and the overarching theme of mental illnesses as disorders of brain circuits. introduction to psychiatry after college and before medical school, i traveled around the world. after witnessing the poverty in south asia, i thought i would go back there as a physician. i went to medical school interested mostly in tropical medicine. i didn’t plan to go into psychiatry or anything related to that. my family was made up of doctors, none of whom thought psychiatry was part of medicine. in the early ’70s, when i was in medical school, people were just beginning to map out the area between psychiatry and neurology, trying to understand how the brain works for memory, emotion, and decision making. a couple of outstanding professors in medical school introduced me to that idea, and i became very interested in it. i went on to do my residency in psychiatry. project on the biology of obsessive compulsive disorder (oCd) in adults. at that time, oCd was primarily treated with psychoanalysis, but we were able to show for the first time that a serotonin reuptake inhibitor was effective for treating oCd. i enjoyed clinical research, but over time, i became more interested in the neurobiology of emotion and complex social behavior, but in those days, before brain imaging, there was no rigorous way to pursue these questions in humans. i moved into nimh’s Laboratory of Brain evolution and Behavior, where i started a research program focused on the study of social behavior. We were investigating the biology of complex social behavior in rodents and discovered the important role of two hormones—oxytocin and vasopressin—in behaviors such as parenting and attachment. A new direction When a new director arrived who wasn’t interested in continuing that work on behavior, i took a position at emory University as director of the primate research center. i went from running a lab of about 15 people at nimh to being in charge of about 350 people. i had no idea how to be a leader, but as i figured it out, i decided that i really liked this new role, for two main reasons: it made use of my skills as a psychotherapist—working well with people and helping to manage groups—and it was all about moving science forward. in the driver’s seat When i was asked to come back to the nimh as director, it was something i never imagined. for almost 20 years, i had been following this path to study the molecular basis of attachment and parental care. that work was going very well, and i was excited by where the field was going. But i realized that what i was doing was having no impact beyond a very small group of colleagues. maybe it was my roots as a physician or maybe turning 50, but i began to think about the needs of the 30 million people in the United states who are struggling with severe mental illness. directing the nimh was a way to have a much bigger impact. nimh is the world’s largest investment program in science related to mental health and mental illness. We spend a billion dollars a year in supporting labs in universities, small companies, and elsewhere, and that’s in biology, brain, and behavior after finishing my clinical training and having two small children, i moved to be near my family in Bethesda, maryland, and took a job as a clinical researcher at the nimh. i really had no plan for a career in science. this was right at the time when this wave of biological studies of mental illness was really getting going. i began a research 6 imagine sept/oct 2012

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - September/October 2012

Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - September/October 2012
Big Picture
In My Own Words
The Proper Care and Feeding of the Teenage Brain
Building Brain Power Through the International Brain Bee
CTY Neuroscience
Same and Different
Braingate: Turning Thoughts Into Action
Shedding Light on Schizophrenia
Unraveling the Mysteries of Memory
Through the Looking Glass
Selected Opportunities & Resources
Fencing Lessons
Off the Shelf
Word Wise
Exploring Career Options
One Step Ahead
Planning Ahead for College
Students Review
Creative Minds Imagine
Mark Your Calendar
Knossos Games

Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - September/October 2012