In what he called a “milestone in an odyssey from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic,” Anthony-Samuel LaMantia, director of the George Washington University (GW) Institute for Neuroscience and professor of pharmacology and physiology at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), became the inaugural Jeffrey Lieberman Professor of Neurosciences during an installation ceremony on Tuesday.
Surrounded by colleagues, family and friends, LaMantia beamed as he thanked them for the moment.
“If one is to achieve any measure of success in his or her professional and personal journey, that success is built upon the love, support, and guidance of family, friends, and colleagues. They make the journey possible,” he said.
LaMantia has played a pivotal role in expanding the GW neurosciences faculty and has been a catalyst for partnerships and collaborations across the school, the university, and with Children’s National Health System, said Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, RESD '85, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS.
“Today, we celebrate Dr. LaMantia for his important contribution as an esteemed neuroscientist and leader in the area of genetic research with a focus on genetic and molecular mechanisms of early brain development,” Akman said.
At the outset of LaMantia’s distinguished career, he explored the organization and development of axon pathways that connect the two hemispheres of the cerebral cortex and helped develop new methods for observing neural circuits in living animals over time. While an assistant professor of neurobiology at Duke University, he demonstrated that the forebrain, which mediates learning, memory, and cognition, is built with the same molecular tools that build limbs, hearts, and facial bones. He used this work as a foundation for studying the pathogenesis of DiGeorge, or 22q11 Deletion Syndrome, a genetic disorder that comes with the highest known genetic risk for autism and schizophrenia, as well as heart, face, and limb malformations.
In addition, LaMantia worked with the professorship’s namesake, Jeffrey A. Lieberman, M.D. ’75, now the Lawrence C. Kolb Professor of Psychiatry and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, while at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill.
Lieberman called the professorship “an incredibly moving and special honor.”
“I think it represents the tying together of so many threads in my life,” he said, reflecting on the coincidence of LaMantia being picked as the first recipient of the professorship. It was “unbeknownst to Jeff [Akman] when he orchestrated this,” Lieberman said, but “Anthony was at Duke when I was at UNC, and I actually played a big role in recruiting him to UNC.
“I’m not that much of a fatalist, but I can’t imagine this is a totally random chance. GW has played a pivotal role in my career. I’ve been very fortunate in that. I began here, now this milestone is celebrated here,” he added.
Speakers at the installation also included some of LaMantia’s close colleagues: Scott Pomeroy, chair of the Department of Neurology, neurologist-in-chief at Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Bronson Crothers Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School; Dale Purves, Geller Professor of Neurobiology Emeritus in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences; and Pasko Rakic, founder of Yale University’s Department of Neurobiology and Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, and Duberg Chair in Neuroscience at Yale.
All three men spoke of LaMantia’s love of science and exquisite ability to teach.
“That level of influence in terms of teaching and excellence has just made a big difference here [at GW],” Pomeroy noted.
LaMantia thanked those colleagues for their encouragement and expressed his gratitude “for the privilege of receiving a GW professorship honoring Jeffery Lieberman, a truly distinguished GW medical school alumnus.”
“His support of my early forays into the biological basis of complex brain disorders when we were both at UNC Chapel Hill added unexpected dimensions to my career, dimensions I continue to explore to this day,” LaMantia said. “I’m honored to be part of GW’s recognition of Jeff’s exceptional contributions to basic and clinical neurology.
“The deeper significance of academic moments like this is often not considered,” he said. “To quote, or paraphrase, T.S. Eliot: ‘We have the experience, but we miss the meaning.’ So what do I think today is really all about? Well, I don’t think it’s about me. Instead, we’re here to celebrate the continuity of knowledge and its transfer from generation to generation. We acknowledge the challenges and rewards of scholarship, and it is with great humility I reaffirm my commitment to discovering and sharing knowledge.”