President's New Freedom
Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
Thomas R. Insel, M.D., is Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the component of the National Institutes of Health charged with generating the knowledge needed to understand, treat, and prevent mental disorders that affect an estimated 44 million Americans, including one in five children. Dr. Insel sees as priorities for NIMH the discovery of susceptibility genes and diagnostic biomarkers for the major mental disorders; research that will lead to a reduction in suicide, which today is globally responsible for as many deaths as wars and homicides combined; enhanced behavioral strategies for reducing HIV/AIDS transmission; and elucidating causal risk processes that will enable prevention of mental disorders.
Immediately prior to his appointment as Director, which marks his return to NIMH after an 8-year hiatus, Dr. Insel was Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University. There, he was founding director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, one of the largest science and technology centers funded by the National Science Foundation and, concurrently, 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. While at Emory, Dr. Insel continued the line of research he had initiated at NIMH studying the neurobiology of complex social behaviors in animals. A particular focus of his work has examined the role of the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin in social attachment - including, for example, maternal behavior and pair-bond formation - and in aggressive behavior. This work established his place on the ISI's list of the 200 most frequently cited neuroscientists in the 1990s. Early in his NIMH research career, which extended from 1979 to 1994, Dr. Insel conducted clinical research on obsessive-compulsive disorder, conducting some of the first treatment trials for OCD using the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) class of medications.
Dr. Insel serves on numerous academic, scientific, and professional committees, including 10 editorial boards. He is a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and has is a recipient of the A. E. Bennett Award from the Society for Biological Psychiatry, In 1991, he was recipient of the prestigious Curt Richter Prize for his studies of the neurobiology of attachment. Additional awards have been granted by the Public Health Service and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). Dr. Insel graduated from the combined B.A.-M.D. program at Boston University in 1974. He did his internship at Berkshire Medical Center, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and his residency at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California, San Francisco.