Floyd Bloom: Building a bridge to the future

Floyd Bloom and the transformation of brain research

Editor’s Note:  This profile of Floyd Bloom, written in 2003, has been updated.

Lisa A. DuBois
Published: November, 2003

In the late 1960s, Floyd Bloom was so frustrated by his administrative and teaching responsibilities at Yale University Medical Center that he asked if he could resign his position as assistant professor and become a post-doctoral research fellow again. Such a request was unheard of in the venerable halls of the Ivy League.

But Bloom was serious. Over his chairman’s objections, he left Yale and returned to his familiar training grounds at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Md. There in a laboratory in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, surrounded by patients with profound mental illness, many of whom had spent 20, 30, or 40 years hospitalized with schizophrenia, depression or debilitating psychoses, he resumed his true passion -- trying to decipher the biochemical reactions that lead to both normal and abnormal brain function.

Bloom is ardently devoted to basic science, a man willing to jump disciplines in order to test a theory or reach a solution, a firm believer in the integration of ideas. As a physician, he is equally dedicated to moving discoveries rapidly from the laboratory “bench” to the “bedsides” of patients.

“Floyd has this huge ‘super’ vision,” says Lee Limbird, Ph.D., former chair of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “He conceptualizes problems at a 30,000-foot level, but then he drops down to the ground to make those problems tractable to experiments.”

Over the course of his career, Bloom has identified new neurotransmitters and neuromodulators that led to the mapping out of the brain’s chemical pathways; he has spearheaded breakthroughs in the neurophysiology of drug addiction, alcoholism, degenerative diseases, and AIDS-related dementia; and he has ascended to a leadership role as an activist, calling for a national policy review that would jumpstart a complete restructuring of the American health care system.

“To me, he’s the Carl Sagan of neurobiology,” Limbird adds. “One of the things that Carl Sagan did was to help lay people put words not only to the science, but to the excitement and the importance of what was discovered. Floyd has that same contagious enthusiasm. Yet even though he has one of the most extraordinary and gifted minds, he’s totally unpretentious. There’s no feigned humility. He’s just a passionate human being.”

Married since 1980 to Jody Corey-Bloom, M.D., Ph.D., clinical professor of Neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, he is the father of two and the grandfather of four. Sitting in his office at the biotech neuroinformatics company, Neurome, which he co-founded three years ago, he speaks with energy and he smiles often. And, most strikingly, he listens. Intently.

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