In her role as the director of the NIMH
brain bank, Lipska has collected brain
tissue and managed the distribution of
samples to researchers around the world.
The 67-year-old scientist never expected
to see manifestations of mental illness
in herself. But that’s exactly what happened when tumors in her brain grew
and became inflamed while she was on a
nine-week immunotherapy clinical trial
for metastatic melanoma from April to
June 2015. Lipska began to experience
paranoia, memory lapses, extreme mood
swings and personality changes. These
symptoms were brought under control
with steroids, radiation and a targeted
treatment that she started in July 2015.
With unflinching honesty, Lipska, who
was treated for breast cancer in 2009 and
melanoma in 2011, recounts her descent
into mental illness and her return to
sanity in a memoir, The Neuroscientist
Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness
and Recovery. Most interesting to Lipska as
a scientist is that she had no idea anything
was wrong. This lack of self-awareness,
known clinically as anosognosia, is
characteristic of many psychiatric
conditions. Lipska didn’t fully grasp
her experience until she pieced together
what happened from her own recollec-
tions and her family’s accounts.
“I didn’t understand what was happening to me and I did not understand
the reactions of people surrounding me.
I thought they went mad, or they [had]
changed, not me,” says Lipska, who was
born and raised in Warsaw, Poland, and
now lives in Annandale, Virginia. “I had
absolutely no insight.”
Barbara Lipska, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland, has spent her career cutting and scrutinizing brain tissue. This pursuit has a
benevolent goal: to understand mental illnesses and discover treatments
for diseases, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
NEUROSCIENTIST BARBARA LIPSKA DESCRIBES HER
EXPERIENCES WITH SYMPTOMS OF PSYCHIATRIC ILLNESS
CAUSED BY TREATMENT FOR METASTASES IN HER BRAIN.
PHOTO BY MIREK GORSKI