KSJ Tracker December 11, 2012

Director of National Institute of Mental Health blogs top 10 advances of 2012

Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director, NIMH

On his director's blog, Thomas R. Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, has listed what, in his view, were the top 10 advances in mental health and neuroscience in 2012. It's an interesting list not only because of what it includes, but because Insel shares his interpretations and some brief ruminations on the findings, along with his suggestions of what is likely to continue to be important in the coming years.

Manipulating the epigenome to treat brain disorders is one intriguing development that I missed. I also liked his description of 2012 as "the year of genomic weirdness," which apparently is some sort of technical term. Under "weird," he includes the notion that "cancer might be a useful model for understanding autism or schizophrenia," that women can carry their offspring's cells in their brains, and that "microDNA segments could be transmitted independently of chromosomes."

Insel humbly notes that not all of the discoveries were funded by NIMH, and that some were not directly focused on mental disorders but rather "suggested new vistas for biology that will almost certainly change the way we understand serious mental illness and neurodevelopmental disorders."

His No. 1 pick? I won't spoil it here, but it was funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute, and it has something to do with junk.

-Paul Raeburn


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