Google Beefs Up Life Sciences Unit with NIMH Hire

Qmed Staff

September 18, 2015

3 Min Read
Google Beefs Up Life Sciences Unit with NIMH Hire

Earlier this week Google announced that it had hired Thomas Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to be a part of its growing Life Science group. Insel was brought on to apply the company's vast technological resources toward mental illness.

Jordan Brandes

Thomas InselThomas Insel has been a part of the NIMH since 2002 and has had a fundamental role in practical clinical trials, autism research, and the role of mental illness. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine, a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and is a recipient of several awards including the Outstanding Service Award from the U.S. Public Health Service.

Google's interest in detection and treatment of mental illness is interesting and could possibly lead to the development of new treatment modalities. A recent Fortune post states that Google may leverage its analytics to better understand conditions such as Alzheimer's and autism. The article even goes so far to state that "mental health devices may be technology's next big business."

In any event, Google's growing involvement in mental health is worth keeping an eye on, as it may possibly lead to the development of novel technologies to treat mental health disorders, according to William Betten, a medical industry consultant based in the Minneapolis area. "Insel is incredibly qualified for the position. I think he's going to look at how to bring new tools and capabilities to the mental health field that weren't there before. More specifically he will shed light on the fact that there are more alternatives in the field of mental illness than just using pharmaceuticals. He is going to look at how to bring in new tools to the mental health sector, especially as it relates to medical devices and analytics."

Google's Life Sciences group is the first company to operate under the newly formed Alphabet umbrella. Currently, the division is developing a glucose-monitoring contact lens with Swiss drug maker Novartis. "The GLS team is developing new technologies to transform healthcare," Insel said in a statement released on NIMH's site. "I am joining the team to explore how this mission can be applied to mental illness. That the life sciences team at Google would establish a major exploration into mental health is by itself a significant statement--recognizing the burden of illness from psychosis, mood disorders, and autism as well as the opportunity for technology to make a major impact to change the world for the millions affected."

Google's entrance into the industry of mental illness could bring about larger changes as well. "This gives Google instant creditability. I don't know that it will drive things in the mental health industry but it's exciting and breaks traditional stereotypes of how the business is run," Betten says. He addsthat bringing Insel on board could help to shed more light on mental illness and maybe help to remove the stigma typically associated with the subject.

"Google does not have the silver bullet for mental illness but the convergence of medicine and consumer devices creates an exciting new way of doing business in the medical industry. Money is still the question and how they plan to monetize the services that Insel will be providing. Having communication companies moving into the mental health sector opens up that space," explains Betten.

As Inself himself explains in his statement, the mission of the GLS team is about creating technology that can help with earlier detection, better prevention, and more effective management of serious health conditions.

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