Get Involved
About Us
Our Members
Frank Ayd Jr. 1920–2008
Frank Ayd Jr., MD, a psychiatrist who advanced psychopharmacology and arguably saved several patients from unnecessary lobotomies, died March 17, 2008, at the age of 87.1

“All ye who enter here abandon hope” was once a common phrase for the mentally ill in the 1950s, Dr. Ayd told the Psychiatric Times.2 It was Dr. Ayd who helped make it a moot phrase for psychiatry through his use of antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs to treat the mentally ill.

In a time when lobotomies were performed for schizophrenia (and using drugs to treat mental disorders was not yet accepted practice), Dr. Ayd thought there was something in the brain that could be adjusted and suspected lobe removal wasn’t the answer. He sought a biological approach to psychiatry, noticing that certain mental illnesses shared similar strange symptoms such as abnormal reactions to hot and cold and a reduced realization of pain.3 In a clinical trial in 1957, researchers decided that no patients would be lobotomized without first undergoing a prolonged trial on reserpine.4 Reserpine is a blood pressure-lowering alkaloid derived from the traditional Ayurvedic herb sapagandha or Indian snakeroot (Rauvolfia [or Rauwolfia] serpentina, Apocynaceae), also effective as an antipsychotic. Emil Schlittler of Ciba Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland originally discovered reserpine, but Dr. Ayd was among the first to test it for psychiatry, according to American Botanical Council Co-founder and Trustee Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD (e-mail, April 29, 2008). Though reserpine is no longer used for schizophrenia because of adverse side effects, it is still used to lower blood pressure, and it is arguable that its psychiatric use saved several patients from unnecessary lobotomies. Dr. Ayd also received the first permit from the US Food and Drug Administration in 1954 to use Thorazine®, another drug he tested in the field of psychiatry, to treat schizophrenia.1

“Dr. Ayd was one of the founding fathers of modern psychiatry,” Philip Janicak, MD, a psychiatrist and editor of Psychopharm Review (which was founded by Dr. Ayd in the 1950s as a newsletter with the name “International Drug Therapy”1) told the Los Angeles Times.3 “He changed the direction of psychiatry.”

Dr. Ayd was born in Baltimore in 1920. He began medical school at the University of Maryland and completed his degree in 1945 during his time in the Navy, where he was first exposed to psychiatry.1 He served as chief of psychiatry at Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore from 1955–1962, then lectured at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome from 1962–1965. He directed professional education and research at Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City, Maryland, from 1969–1986, and retired from medicine in 2003.3

Dr. Ayd contributed to over 50 books and also wrote the Lexicon of Psychiatry, Neurology, and the Neurosciences (Lippincott-Raven Publishers, 1995), which became a standard reference for biological psychiatry.1 He also contributed to the fourth edition of Principals and Practice of Psychopharmacotherapy (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006) and two other editions of that book.3

Dr. Ayd is survived by his wife Rita Anne Corasaniti; his sisters Jane Morales and Regina Brockmeyer; his brother Robert; his sons Frank III, Joseph, Thomas, Vincent, and John; his daughters Margaret Reid, Virginia Simpson, Teresa Knott, Martha Teitelbaum, Christina Lears, Rita O’Brennan, and Loretta Simpson; as well as 32 grandchildren and 38 great-grandchildren.1

—Kelly E. Saxton
  1. Martin D. Frank Ayd, 87, who advanced Thorazine use, is dead. New York Times. March 21, 2008; B0:9.

  2. Kaplan A. Through the times with Frank J. Ayd Jr., MD. Psychiatric Times. January 2005; 22(1).

  3. Rasmussen F. Dr. Frank J. Ayd Jr., 87. Pioneer treated mentally ill with drugs. Los Angeles Times. March 29, 2008; B8.

  4. Moore JNP and Martin EA. Trial of reserpine in treatment of schizophrenia Br Med J. January 5, 1957; 1(5009): 8–14.