Manfred Sakel

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Manfred Sakel
Manfred sakel.jpg
Born June 6th, 1900
Died December 2, 1957
New York City
Nationality United States
Alma mater University of Vienna
Known for insulin shock therapy

Manfred Joshua Sakel (June 6, 1900 – December 2, 1957) was a Jewish Austrian (later Austrian-American) neurophysiologist and psychiatrist, credited with developing insulin shock therapy in 1927.


Sakel was born on June 6, 1900, in Nadwórna, in the former Austria-Hungary Empire (now Ukraine), which was part of Poland between the world wars. Sakel studied Medicine at the University of Vienna from 1919 to 1925, specializing in neurology and neuropsychiatry. In 1933 he became a researcher at the University of Vienna's Neuropsychiatric Clinic. In 1936, after receiving an invitation from Frederick Parsons, the state commissioner of mental hygiene, he chose to emigrate from Austria to the United States of America. In the USA, he became an attending physician and researcher at the Harlem Valley State Hospital.

Dr. Sakel was the developer of insulin shock therapy from 1927 while a young doctor in Vienna, starting to practice it in 1933.[1] It would become widely used on individuals with schizophrenia and other mental patients. He noted that insulin-induced coma and convulsions, due to the low level of glucose attained in the blood (hypoglycemic crisis), had a short-term appearance of changing the mental state of drug addicts and psychotics, sometimes dramatically so. He reported that up to 88% of his patients improved with insulin shock therapy, but most other people reported more mixed results and it was eventually shown that patient selection had been biased and that it didn't really have any specific benefits and had many risks, adverse effects and fatalities. However, his method became widely applied for many years in mental institutions worldwide. In the USA and other countries it was gradually dropped after the introduction of the electroconvulsive therapy in the 1940s and the first neuroleptics in the 1950s.[2]

It has been noted that patients would have been terrified of the procedure. Most professionals who were involved are now ashamed, recalling it as inhumane and unscientific, although they may have had the impression of efficacy in the narrow confines of isolated insulin shock units with much extra personal attention and support given to the cherry-picked patients.[3]

Dr. Sakel died from a heart attack[4] on December 2, 1957, in New York City, NY, USA.


  1. ^ Wortis, J. (1958). "In Memoriam Manfred Sakel". American Journal of Psychiatry 115: 287–8. 
  2. ^ Edward Shorter, David Healy. Shock Therapy: A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness. Rutgers University Press, 2013
  3. ^ Doroshow DB. (2007) Performing a cure for schizophrenia: insulin coma therapy on the wards J Hist Med Allied Sci. Apr;62(2):213-43.
  4. ^ Time - Milestones, December 16, 1957

Further reading[edit]

  • Peters, U H (1992), "[Introduction of shock therapy and psychiatric emigration]", Fortschritte der Neurologie-Psychiatrie (Sep 1992) 60 (9): 356–365, doi:10.1055/s-2007-999155, PMID 1398417 
  • "Manfred J. Sakel", Journal of clinical and experimental psychopathology 15 (3), 1954: 319, PMID 13221647 
  • Fink, M (1984), "Meduna and the Origins of Convulsive Therapy", American Journal of Psychiatry, 141(9): 1034-1041 (This historical and biographical paper discusses the introduction of the shock treatment in psychiatry, the role of a theory of the biological antagonism between epilepsy and schizophrenia, and the contributions of Ladislas J. Meduna, Sakel, Ugo Cerletti, and Lucio Bini.)

External links[edit]