Professor Joel Elkes, widely regarded as one of the founders of the field of psychopharmacology, was a distinguished psychiatry professor and researcher, visionary founder and leader of the National Institute for Psychobiology in Israel, and talented painter. He passed away on October 30th in Sarasota, Florida, just shy of his 102nd birthday.
Joel Elkes was born November 12, 1913 in Koenigsberg, Germany, to Dr. Elkhanan and Miriam Elkes, and grew up in Kovno, Lithuania along with his sister Sara. His father Dr. Elkhanan Elkes, a distinguished physician appointed head of the Kovno ghetto by the Nazi occupiers. Before he was killed by the Nazis, he organized resistance and helped smuggle children to safe places in Catholic homes. Professor Elkes later wrote and published a memoir about his father, titled "Dr. Elkhanan Elkes of the Kovno Ghetto."
At the age of seventeen, Elkes moved to London to study medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School and then began his career in basic research applied to clinical psychiatry at the University of Birmingham (U.K.), where he was appointed head of the Department of Experimental Psychiatry, the first of its kind in the world.
In 1957 Professor Elkes moved to the United States to establish and direct the Clinical Neuropharmacological Research Center of the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington, D.C. Professor Elkes was one of the founders of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) and served as its first president in 1961. From 1963 to 1974, Professor Elkes served as Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. He subsequently held other distinguished positions in universities in Canada and in the United States.
Professor Elkes was instrumental in founding the fields of psychopharmacology and modern biological psychiatry, which set the stage for revolutionary understandings of the effects of drugs and chemicals on mental states and disorders, and the current era of modern psychiatric drug treatments.
He combined his love for Israel and for research in mental disorders when in 1971 he, together with Charles E. Smith of blessed memory, founded and directed the National Institute of Psychobiology of Israel, NIPI, a pioneering institute devoted to supporting Israel’s finest scientific minds in conducting advanced psychobiological research. NIPI has so far awarded over 1,000 research grants to Israeli scientists studying brain disorders, and supports a laboratory for advanced research, the Charles E. Smith Family - Prof. Joel Elkes Laboratory, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In the words of psychiatrist and author Dr. David Healy, "Joel Elkes’ contributions lay not only in the field of scientific achievement but also in the broader area of persuading the world of the importance of the new discoveries… [Elkes had] a unique capacity to still a noisy and restless auditorium and make people aware that their work involves more than the routine drudgery of science – that they were also working on issues of fundamental concern to humanity."
Prof. Elkes was Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at Johns Hopkins University, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at the University of Louisville, and Professor Emeritus at McMaster University. He was one of the founding editors of two major journals: Psychopharmacologia (now Journal of Psychopharmacology) and Journal of Psychiatric Research. In 1988, the Neuroscience Laboratories of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University were named for him. For thirty years, the ACNP has annually awarded the Joel Elkes Research Award to a distinguished young scientist for his or her clinical/translational achievements in neuropsychopharmacology.
In his later years, Professor Elkes developed a passion for painting, utilizing vibrant color and brushstrokes to express emotions and as a therapeutic tool. His nature-inspired watercolor paintings have been sold and exhibited in the U.S. and in Israel.
His first wife, Dr. Charmian Elkes, née Bourne, was a psychiatrist and researcher from the U.K. He and his late second wife, Josephine Rhodes, helped found the Genesis Center for the management of chronic illness at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. Professor Elkes later married Sally Lucke-Elkes, an art educator and pillar of her community, with whom he shared a passion for life and art. He is survived by his wife Sally Lucke-Elkes and his daughter Anna Elkes.