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Thomas R. Insel, M.D., Named New Director of the National Institute of Mental Health

Press Release

Tom Insel, M.D., Director of NIMH

Bethesda, Maryland—Elias Zerhouni, M.D., Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), today announced the appointment of Thomas R. Insel, M.D., as Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Dr. Insel, who is currently Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, is expected to begin his appointment in mid-November.

“I am very pleased to welcome Dr. Insel to NIH,” said Tommy Thompson, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). “His distinguished scientific research career, and his leadership roles in shaping research in the academic arena make him well-suited to lead the NIMH.”

“After a thorough and careful search process, it became clear that Dr. Insel’s ability to communicate a compelling vision for mental health research, his outstanding scientific record, and proven leadership skills made him the natural choice for this important directorship,” added Dr. Zerhouni.

Dr. Insel will oversee the NIMH’s $1.3 billion research budget that provides support to investigators at universities throughout the country in the areas of basic science; clinical research, including large-scale trials of new treatments; and studies of the organization and delivery of mental health services. The Institute also administers an in-house research program at the NIH Bethesda. NIMH was authorized in 1946 as one of the first NIH institutes. The Institute’s mission is to reduce the burden of mental illness and behavioral disorders through research on mind, brain, and behavior.

“I am honored and privileged to be joining the NIH at a time when mental health and mental disorders are so very clearly at the forefront of the Nation’s public health agenda,” Dr. Insel said. “Recent years have witnessed enormous progress in our understanding of the brain. We have important new insights into the molecular and cellular basis of brain function. Now our challenge is to translate these discoveries from basic science into new insights and new treatments for mental disorders. Equally important, NIMH must work with other Federal agencies and with professional and consumer groups to ensure that what is known through research is being applied to address the tremendous—and frequently unmet—needs for high quality mental health treatment services.”

Dr. Insel first joined NIMH in 1979 as a clinical associate in the Clinical Neuropharmacology Branch, and went on to hold several administrative and leadership posts. During his 15 years at NIMH before heading to Emory in 1994, Insel conducted research in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), initiating some of the first treatment trials for OCD using serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Five years later, Dr. Insel launched a research program in social neuroscience, focusing on the neurobiology of complex social behaviors in animals. Using molecular, cellular, and pharmacological approaches, Dr. Insel’s laboratory has demonstrated the importance of the neuropeptides, oxytocin and vasopressin, in maternal behavior, pair bond formation, and aggression.

Dr. Insel graduated from Boston University where he received a B.A. from the College of Liberal Arts and an M.D. from the Medical School. 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. Dr. Insel joined NIMH in 1979, where he served in various scientific research positions until 1994 when he went to Emory University, Atlanta, as Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Emory University School of Medicine, and Director of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center. As director of Yerkes, Dr. Insel built one of the nation’s leading HIV vaccine research programs. He currently serves as the founding director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, a science and technology center, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Center has developed an interdisciplinary consortium for research and education at eight Atlanta colleges and universities. Dr. Insel’s research continues to study the role of oxytocin in social attachment and behavior, and under an NIMH grant, he is involved in the development of an autism research center.

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 received awards from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), the Society for Biological Psychiatry, and the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS).


About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website .

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