New Alphabet hire Insel gears up for med tech mental health innovation

Thomas Insel

Alphabet's ($GOOG) notable hire of late, Dr. Thomas Insel, is gearing up to start work next week at the Google Life Sciences group, and Insel is bringing big plans for med tech mental health innovation to the table.

The way Insel sees it, "technology can have greater impact on mental healthcare than on the care for heart disease, diabetes, cancer or other diseases," he told Fusion. "It could transform this area in the next 5 years." Google's analytics and data-mining tools could help spur research, Insel added, with new technology improving outcomes for patients and uncovering better treatments for mental illnesses.

One application would be to create sensors that give objective measures of behavior to help detect symptoms. Similar to a Fitbit ($FIT) that tracks steps and activity levels, the sensors would monitor mood, sleep and movement and also have users take clinical tests to gauge their mental health, Insel said.

Another tool would be online therapy. Insel mentioned companies like U.K. startup Big White Wall that are developing virtual interfaces that allow members to post anonymously about their mental health problems, take clinical tests online and video chat with therapists. The technology could be "really potentially transformative," Insel said, especially for patients who are not as likely to come in for treatment.

Still, much of Insel's role at Google's reconceptualized Alphabet remains shrouded in mystery. Last month, the tech giant made Insel an offer that he "couldn't refuse," he told Fusion, luring him away from a 13-year career at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to develop new technologies for mental illness. But "I don't know what I'm going to be doing, and I think they don't either," Insel said of his upcoming work. "They're an amazingly secretive company."

It's safe to say that Insel's work will fall in line with Alphabet's other med tech initiatives, which center around making treatment more accessible for patients. The company's Google Ventures (GV) investment arm works along these lines, sinking funds into promising life sciences startups with plans for affordable healthcare.

"If we live in a world where the technologies we're talking about are for rich white people in Silicon Valley then we've failed," GV founder Bill Maris said, as quoted by Business Insider. "The idea is to try and distribute this technology as broadly as possible."

- read the Fusion story
- here's the Business Insider article

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