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US mental health agency director hired by Alphabet

Thomas Insel will be working on mental health there, too

NIHM / Wikimedia Commons

The director of the US National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel, is joining Alphabet's Life Sciences, which was spun out from Google X. Starting November 1st, Insel will lead a mental health effort at the company, according to a letter from the NIH.

Insel served as director of the National Institute of Mental Health for 13 years. Under his guidance, the NIMH launched initiatives like the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium — a project that looks for links between genetic data and psychiatric illnesses — and the Army STARRS project, which was designed to identify factors that can protect servicemembers' mental health. Now, he's headed for Life Sciences, a Google-founded company that works on genetics, cancer, and diabetes — and the first company to fall under the Alphabet umbrella.

"Tom is coming on board to explore how the Life Sciences team at Google could have an impact on the huge challenges related to understanding, diagnosing, and treating mental illness,” says Jacquelyn Miller, a spokesperson for the Life Sciences team at Google. Insel will determine which projects Life Sciences should pursue in mental illness, then lead those efforts. The company declined to comment further.

NIMH is looking for a permanent replacement

In his new role, Insel will explore how to create technology that can be used to prevent, diagnose, and treat "a wide spectrum of issues in mental health," NIH director Francis Collins wrote in the letter.

Bruce Cuthbert, former director of the Division of Adult Translational Research at NIMH, will be replacing Insel as acting director while the agency conducts a search for a permanent replacement.

Update: This article has been updated with a response from Google regarding Insel's role at Life Sciences.

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