Questions raised about government institute director

It has been four years since Thomas Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health, was suspected of pharmaceutical conflicts of interest. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, he assured the dean of the University of Miami medical school that if the dean hired Charles Nemeroff, government money would not be denied to U. of Miami.

Why was it in danger of being denied? Because Nemeroff, a disgraced Emory researcher, had a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant terminated, a rare occurrence, after a congressional investigation probed his unreported drug industry income. At the time that Insel downplayed the revocation of Nemeroff’s government money, Insel was leading NIH efforts to stamp out conflicts of interest and supposedly was a steward our tax dollars, says the Chronicle.

Why the largesse? Press reports said Insel wanted to repay Nemeroff for getting Insel a job at Emory University when Insel lost his NIH position in 1994. Nice old boys’ network, revolving door work, if you can get it.

Recently Insel was again in the news, this time writing a blog on the National Institute of Mental Health web site that more children are being medicated for emotional and behavioral problems because more children likely have emotional and behavioral problems. Reacting to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that as many as US 10,000 toddlers are on stimulants like Ritalin, Insel wrote that that a “bigger problem” than over-medication of children and toddlers may well be “under-treatment.” Ka-ching.

Insel was an early believer in the biomedical model of mental health, reports the New York Timeswhich is behind drugging children. Children’s impulsive and immature behavior isn’t growing up, goes the theory, but is a chemical imbalance in their brain that requires an expensive drug!

A passionate animal researcher, Insel directed the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center once he was at Emory, one of the world’s largest centers for research on monkeys and great apes, before returning to NIH. Animal research, especially on primates, is increasingly under the ethical microscope

Scientists maintain that average citizens cannot judge the merit of animal experiments (even though they are usually subsidizing them with tax dollars) but many are banal, inhumane and simply “pork” given to academic research centers.

A particularly low period of animal research was helmed by Henry Harlow, known for subjecting baby primates to “Iron Maiden” mothers and the “pit of despair.” Sadly, Insel’s experiments on primates seem to continue the same chilling tradition.

In one experiment, newborn monkeys were “removed from their mothers within 48 hours of birth,” and subjected to “stressors” without being “able to use a social companion to buffer their response to a stressor.” What did researcher learn? “As expected from previous studies, monkeys removed from their mother shortly after birth and raised in standard nursery conditions develop a syndrome characterized by decreased affiliation, increased aggression, and increased self-directed, repetitive behavior,” they write. Thanks for that.

In another experiment conducted by Insel on voles, a mouse-like mammal, “an animal was placed in the start box” with 2-8 days old pups. “Parental behavior was recorded as time spent with pups, either nursing, grooming or crouching during a 5-min period. Females were decapitated the same day.” What?

With disturbing links to cronyism, pharmaceutical conflicts of interest, overmedication of children and cruelty to animals, why is this person heading a government institute? Supported by our tax dollars?

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

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