Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Dr. Insel: BRAIN Initiative Could Change Practice

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Dr. Insel: BRAIN Initiative Could Change Practice

Article excerpt


HOLLYWOOD, FLA. -- To date, neither psychiatry nor neuropsychiatry has managed to turn the tide against mental illness, the rates of which continue to increase in the United States, while the cure rate does not keep pace, according to a recent report on the global disease burden published in JAMA.

For that reason, leaders in the mental health field such as Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, who is both a psychiatrist and a neuroscientist, are supporting President Barack Obama's BRAIN Initiative. The 12-year vision with a projected $4.5 billion price tag has among its aims determining biomarkers that will help us find effective cures for a variety of mental illnesses.

After Dr. Insel addressed the plenary session audience at this year's meeting of the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology, formerly known as the New Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit meeting, he sat for an interview with Clinical Psychiatry News.

This is part 2 of that interview, where Dr. Insel discusses how the BRAIN Initiative could change practice for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. In this interview, Dr. Insel describes how he believes the collaboration of many scientists may lead either to a fuller understanding of the human brain--or to the realization that we're actually not evolved enough to really understand the brain, after all. He also shares what worries him most about brain research so far and describes in no uncertain terms how funding in this new era will be determined for those interested in applying for research grants. Below is an edited transcript of part 2.

Clinical Psychiatry News: You keep referencing other sciences. I had the thought while you were [describing the cortical avalanches] that maybe we're being acted upon, maybe by energy waves, like waves of sound or light. If that's possible, you would have to go outside your own specialty. Dr. Thomas Insel: We need engineering here, for sure. We need really good nanoscience and materials engineers --the whole realm. Recently, they announced the Kavli awards, which are given in three areas: nanoscience, neuroscience, and astrophysics. When Fred Kavli, who recently died, was announcing this, he said he wanted to reward people who work on the biggest--astrophysics; on the smallest--nanoscience; and on the most complex--neuroscience. That's an interesting way to put it. And those three have a lot to talk to one another about.

We're already learning a lot from the astrophysics people about how to manage Big Data, how to use those kinds of large optic collections. It's the kind of thing they're doing now to study the solar system, how to bring all that together, and how to crowd-source it. From the nanoscience people, we are learning how to get in to do very careful recording and careful monitoring within circuits, which they're terrific at. So, the future is going to be borrowing from other fields. It can't be just that we're grabbing their technology and applying it, but increasingly, we will want to have them as full partners.

For example, at Stanford, there is a materials scientist who made a temperature-sensitive hydrogel. He started working with a neuroscientist in the CLARITY study, which uses the hydrogel to make the postmortem brain transparent without severing any of the wiring. …

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