Schizophrenia and Brain Imaging in the 1980s, '90s, and 2000s

Friday, February 20, 2015

In 2005, the Claudia Wassmann of the NIH History Office interviewed Karen Berman, M.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on how she became interested in researching schizophrenia and came to the NIH in 1980. During the discussion, Dr. Berman also describes the importance of brain imaging technology in viewing mental illness as caused by physical disease, not by a lack of will power or bad mothering. Below is an excerpt from their talk:

"I felt that seeing this dissolution of everything that makes us who and what we are in patients really told me a lot about what makes us human," Dr. Berman said. "At the same time I felt very frustrated that there was so little that we could do to help our patients with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia. We could sort of ameliorate their systems a little bit with neuroleptic medication, but there was no cure particularly for the cognitive problems that these folks developed. And I think that’s what drove me to want to do research in the field and to come here to the NIH."

She continues...

"Here at the NIH ... people started to work together more, and now, today, there is a very dynamic large neural imaging community from all kinds of fields, so we meet frequently. So I work in schizophrenia, William’s Syndrome and other mental illnesses and cognitive illness, but I get to hear what the people in epilepsy are doing, in alcoholism, drug abuse and you know hearing about all of these different things here at the NIH I think just provides a unique neural imaging community and a lot of cross fertilization of ideas. We really have a critical mass here both of the hardware that we need and the brains that we need to know how to use it best."

Dr. Berman is now Chief of the Section on Integrative Neuroimaging in the Clinical Brain Disorders Branch at NIMH. Read her full oral history.

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