Donald Klein ’47, “Father of Psychopharmacology,” Dies at 90

Announcements2 MIN READ
Photo: Columbia University Irving Medical Center
By Kardelen Koldas '15
August 20, 2019

Psychiatrist Donald Franklin Klein ’47, known widely as “the father of psychopharmacology” for his groundbreaking work revolutionizing the understanding and treatment of psychiatric disorders ranging from panic attacks to depression to anxiety, died Aug. 7, 2019, at the age of 90 in New York, N.Y. 

Born in 1928, Klein came to Colby from the Bronx, where his father was a shoe wholesaler. After graduating from Bronx High School of Science, he enrolled at Colby in 1944. Three years later at the age of 18, he graduated magna cum laude. He was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa. 

The New York Times reported that Klein said that “despite excellent grades, ‘I couldn’t get into medical school, probably because the vets had all come back then, but also anti-Semitism for medical school admission was very real.’” 

Following Colby, Klein studied biochemistry at New York University Graduate School for a year. He went onto the State University of New York School of Medicine to obtain his M.D. After finishing his residency, he became a research associate, first at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center and later at the Zucker Hillside Hospital, where he worked with neurologist and psychiatrist Max Fink, studying the effects of drugs on psychiatric disorders. It was then that Klein observed how antidepressants could moderate attacks of panic disorder, while an anti-anxiety drug intensified them. At a time when most practitioners only turned to psychotherapy for treating psychiatric problems, Klein’s research revealed that some disorders may have biological causes and that medicine could not only help with the treatment but could also help with identification of the problem’s root cause. 

Over the course of his life, he authored and coauthored numerous books, published thousands of papers, and earned many awards. He was a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. To honor his contributions to the field, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America gives out a Donald F. Klein Early Career Investigator Award each year. Klein is survived by his wife, Rachel Klein, five daughters, and eight grandchildren. 

To read more about Klein’s life, visit the New York Times.