Merton Sandler

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 14 November 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g6609
  1. Chris Mahony, London
  1. chris.mahony{at}

Developed new approaches to treating depression

Merton Sandler, one of the first to link concentrations of chemicals in the brain to depression, was an energetic pioneer in psychopharmacology, whose work contributed to the development of early antidepressants. In 1959 Sandler and Michael Pare published research suggesting that by blocking the enzyme monoamine oxidase in the brain it was possible to boost levels of serotonin and other monoamines—an action that could be helpful in the treatment of depression. Sandler’s enthusiasm led him to smuggle—for research purposes—an illegal drug into Britain from behind the Iron Curtain, and to test a monoamine inhibitor—reserpine—on himself. He experienced “mild psychosis for a month.”

Former colleagues say that his considerable energy, and a conviviality and warmth that encouraged collaboration, were major contributors to his success. Vivette Glover, professor of perinatal psychobiology at Imperial College London and a long time collaborator, said: “There is no doubt that his personality played quite a large part in his achievement. He was interested in people and mentored and supported many young researchers and clinicians. He was funny and people liked him because—unlike many scientists of that period—he preferred collaborating to competition.”

Born into an observant Jewish family in Salford, Sandler …

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