NIH Director’s Statement Regarding Dr. Thomas Insel’s Departure
After serving 13 years as Director for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Thomas R. Insel, M.D., will step down effective November 1, 2015. Tom first served the NIMH from 1980 to 1994 in the Division of Intramural Research, and then returned as Director in 2002. Between NIMH stints he served as Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University, where he was the founding director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and director of an NIH-funded Center for Autism Research. From 1994 to 1999, he was Director of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta. Known for his research into the neurobiology of complex social behaviors, Tom was a pioneer in the study of the role oxytocin and vasopressin in social bonding.
I had the privilege of serving as co-chair of the Search Committee that recruited Tom as the NIMH Director in 2002. Then I had the joy and benefit of working with him as a fellow Institute Director, and for the last six years as NIH Director. Under Tom’s leadership, the NIMH has nurtured a culture of science that puts the needs of patients with serious mental illness at the center of its efforts. This has resulted in major initiatives like the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, which involves over 500 researchers in over 80 institutions across 25 countries; the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) effort, which is developing a new taxonomy for mental illness research; the Army STARRS (Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers) project, an unprecedented partnership between the 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), the most significant repository for autism related data; and RAISE (Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Effort), an NIMH research effort that seeks to fundamentally change the trajectory and prognosis of schizophrenia through coordinated and aggressive early treatment.
Tom has also been at center of many significant trans-NIH and HHS efforts, chairing the Congressionally established Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), a Federal advisory committee that coordinates autism research and services; co-chairing the Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, which supported the pioneering Human Connectome Project and established the gold standard for neuroimaging and a treasure trove of genetic, behavioral, and imaging data, all openly accessible; co-chairing the NIH Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) program, which has the ambitious goal of accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies to map brain circuits; and co-leading Common Fund efforts in Molecular Libraries, Single Cell Biology, and Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx). Tom has the notable distinction of serving simultaneously as the Director for two NIH Institutes/Centers, heading up the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at its founding, until a permanent director was appointed.
In terms of Tom’s future, he is definitely not retiring. He 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, Tom will be exploring this approach for a wide spectrum of issues in mental health. While we conduct a national search for a new NIMH Director, Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D., will serve as Acting Director. Bruce has held a number of leadership positions at the NIMH, serving as the Director of the Division of Adult Translational Research from 2009 to 2014, and until recently devoting his efforts full time to the Institute’s RDoC effort. Bruce is a clinical psychologist and an internationally recognized researcher. I deeply appreciate his willingness to lead the Institute during this transition period.
Please give Bruce your full support, and join me in congratulating Tom on his extraordinary time at the NIH, thanking him for all he’s done, and wishing him the very best in this next stage of his career.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health
Director, National Institutes of Health