National Institute of HealthJuly 28, 2016
National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., announced today the selection of Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., as director of the National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH]. Dr. Gordon is expected to join NIH in September. ”Josh is a visionary psychiatrist and neuroscientist with deep experience in mental health research and practice. He is exceptionally well qualified to lead the NIMH research agenda to improve mental health and treatments for mental illnesses,” said Dr. Collins. “We’re thrilled to have him join the NIH leadership team”…
Dr. Gordon will join NIH from New York City, where he serves as associate professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. In addition to his research, Dr. Gordon is an associate director of the Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute Adult Psychiatry Residency Program, where he directs the neuroscience curriculum and administers the research programs for residents.
Joining the Columbia faculty in 2004, Dr. Gordon’s research has focused on the analysis of neural activity in mice carrying mutations of relevance to psychiatric disease. The lab studies genetic models of these diseases from an integrative neuroscience perspective and across multiple levels of analysis, focused on understanding how a given disease mutation leads to a particular behavior. To this end, the lab employs a range of neuroscience techniques including neurophysiology, which is the study of activity patterns in the brain, and optogenetics, which is the use of light to control neural activity. His work has direct relevance to schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and depression, and has been funded by grants from NIMH and other research organizations. Dr. Gordon maintains a general psychiatric practice, caring for patients who suffer from the illnesses he studies in his lab.Dr. Gordon pursued a combined M.D./Ph.D. degree at the University of California, San Francisco. Medical school coursework in psychiatry and neuroscience convinced him that the greatest need, and greatest promise, for biomedical science was in these areas. During his Ph.D. thesis, Dr. Gordon pioneered the methods necessary to study brain plasticity in the mouse visual system. Upon completion of the dual degree program at UCSF, Dr. Gordon went to Columbia University for his psychiatry residency and research fellowship…
It was a pretty good hunch. This young man had been well cared for by his family who had been devoted to him. He was teased in school, and quit in the ninth grade. He lives at home, and has been unable to find any place where he fits in. They’ve taken him to therapists and doctors throughout his life, but had never been given a diagnosis – in spite of his having been hospitalized after an angry outburst at a kid that was tormenting him. He had been started on courses of most psychiatric drugs along the way but none ever helped. So I spent about an hour today explaining the diagnosis and the possibilities up ahead to his mother. Her relief was palpable. It was as if twenty years of her tension began to melt. She had harbored the fear that he had "schizophrenia" [a condition she had a very distorted understanding of]. She left with a page of phone numbers to call for appointments, and I predict good things.
Driving home, I was thinking about Dr. Insel who was involved with that same Autism Center when he was at Emory before going to the NIMH. And I was thinking about why I have been such his critic. In person, I had liked him, personable, committed, obviously bright. He was not, nor had he ever been, a clinician. I don’t remember what he said at the reception at that Autism Center so long ago where I met him that made me think it, but I left thinking that his zeal for scientific discovery wasn’t tempered by a focus on clinical reality. I remembered that encounter some years later when I felt the same thing as I developed an interest in his NIMH activities – something I called his future-think – an almost desperate race to hit a home run instead of aiming to get on base.
So it was ironic to walk in and read an email that his replacement had been named. I know nothing of Dr. Gordon. I’m encouraged that he has a practice and works with residents. I hope he’s a clinician who can bring some needed balance to the NIMH. In my view, Medicine is a clinical science that has no intrinsic meaning outside of its focus on the patients we see. In my book, the kinds of services I hope my patient can get at the Autism Center are on a par with the lab guys who are looking to find out how neural networks might have something to do with the Autism he and his family struggle with. We need both and that’s not what we have had at the NIMH for a very long time.