Wishing Tom Insel Well

This morning it was announced that Dr. Tom Insel, executive director of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) since 2002, will be leaving that august institution to join Google (aka Alphabet) in their quest to change the world of health. We have followed Dr. Insel’s blogs and presentations closely for many years on our own Kartini newsletter.

Now that he’s leaving I say more power to him (after a moment of panic at the prospect of losing his strong and biology-focused voice within the mental health community).

Because what Google has that’s hard to replicate in a public sector setting is Vision, Courage, and Outside-the-box Thinking; with – crucially – lots of money dedicated to those three things. Our government may in theory also have lots of money, but it’s usually not dedicated to that particular triad.

Alone our collective thinking about diabetes (read obesity), a major focus for Google’s health endeavors, is in dire need of original thought. Try reading the literature on this subject sometime. Once you are outside the actual “methods and materials or results” sections of most peer reviewed papers and into the “conclusions and discussion” sections, you may be forgiven for wondering if their authors had read their own results, so unrelated do their conclusions seem. It’s as if the entire literature is out to prove that the Emperor does in fact have clothes! No, really, he does!

Tom Insel may not be thinking about obesity and metabolic syndrome/diabetes (aka diabesity), but I hope that his focus on science of the brain will influence everything that Google does. The fact that they hired him tells me someone is paying attention over at Google HQ.  And if this news means Google is bringing a Manhattan Project-like focus to the health issues of our times, especially including mental health, I say bravo!

It could change everything.  Smart phones and the internet did.