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Manfred Joshua Sakel Edit Profile


Manfred Joshua Sakel 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 Nadvirna (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.


Sakel went to Vienna, where from 1936 he worked at the neuropsychiatric clinic at the University of Vienna, and specialized in the treatment of addictions. By accident, one of his patients, who was both diabetic and schizophrenic, took an overdose of insulin and went into a coma; when she recovered, her addiction to narcotics was significantly reduced.

Continuing to experiment with insulin for therapeutic purposes in the treatment of schizophrenics, Sakel discovered an 88 percent success rate in the use of the insulin coma treatment, but noticed that he had better results with younger patients. The treatment he evolved comprised four stages: (1) precoma relaxation; (2) inducement of coma; (3) recovery from coma; and (4) gradually decreasing doses of insulin as the patient’s condition improved. His methods became standard procedure in the treatment of schizophrenia.

With Hitler’s rise to power, Sakel decided to leave Austria, and in 1936 went to the United States, where he was invited to teach his methods in hospitals. In 1937 the First International Psychiatric Conference in Berne, Switzerland, was devoted to his treatment. His ideas did encounter some opposition, however, because of the risks of overdosing involved in inducing comas with insulin.

Sakel continued his work at the New York State Mental Health Department. He died in New York. The Sakel Foundation, established after his death, convened international congresses, in 1959 and in 1962, on biological therapy and insulin cure.

Sakel’s principal works were "Epilepsy" (1958) and "Schizophrenia" (1958) both published after his death.


Sakel was a strong Zionist and supporter of the Irgum Tzeva Leumi Movement.


Fellow American Psychiatric Association.


Mayer Sakel

Judith Golde (Friedman) Sakel