Guest Post by Kayt Sukel
Earlier this week, the neuroscience community learned that Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), member of the Dana Alliance’s Executive Committee, and longtime champion of brain research, was leaving his post to take a new position at Google Life Sciences (GLS). Many reacted to Insel’s move with surprise, even shock. How could such an innovative researcher move to the private sector—and to a technology company at that? But Insel says that technology players are going to play an increasingly important role in our understanding—and management—of mental health disorders. He spoke with the Dana Foundation about why understanding the brain has to be a team effort, the potential power of data analytics, and how all the players can work together to further our goals regarding mental health.
Many were surprised by the news that you are heading to GLS, as opposed to back to academia or to another government position. What drew you to the technology sector?
Insel: Historically, we’ve seen pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies work in this space. But now, technology companies like IBM, Apple, GE, and Google are coming to the table with their own strengths. And that’s a good thing. The fact is, we’re all focused on the same ultimate goal: What will it take to make a big difference for people with schizophrenia, autism, depression, Alzheimer’s, and other mental health disorders? We haven’t been able to bend the curve, so far, with the kind of research we’ve historically done. So it became clear to me that we’re going to have to do something very different to make that difference. I can understand that some people get anxious when they see someone from NIH leave to join a tech company. But I’m excited about going to GLS, a place where they are very interested in trying something very different.