Pioneering neuro-geneticist to join Fralin Biomedical Research Institute
A scientist acclaimed for revealing the genetic clockwork of complex developmental disorders in children will join Virginia Tech as a professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, announced Michael Friedlander, executive director of the research institute and vice president for health sciences at Virginia Tech.
Anthony-Samuel LaMantia, currently the Lieberman Professor of Neuroscience at George Washington University (GWU) and director of the GWU Institute for Neuroscience, will move his research program to the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.
In addition, two colleagues from LaMantia’s research group, Thomas Maynard, an associate research professor of anatomy and cell biology in the GWU School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and Daniel Meechan, a senior research scientist in the GWU Institute for Neuroscience, will join the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute as research faculty. The lab will begin transitioning in December.
“Dr. LaMantia is a nationally prominent, senior developmental neuro-geneticist who is unraveling the earliest causes of multiple profound developmental disorders in children, including research into a complex disorder of brain, heart, and facial developmental disabilities,” Friedlander said. “He also is an outstanding educator and mentor who connects people who work in different disciplines. By focusing a network of biologists, physicians, engineers, and even philosophers on the challenges of brain science, he exemplifies the quality research and educational efforts of the research institute, Virginia Tech, and Carilion Clinic.”
LaMantia currently serves on the editorial boards of several leading journals, including Gene Expression, Developmental Neuroscience and Synapse, and served for 12 years as senior reviewing editor for the journal Cerebral Cortex.
He also serves as the principal investigator on two major National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, including a $2.2 million grant on “Genes in Embryonic and Adult Forebrain” and a $6.2 million program project grant on the Pathology, Developmental Origins, and Prevention of Pediatric Dysphagia.
His work has also been supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, The National Down Syndrome Society, The March of Dimes, The National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Affective Disorders (NARSAD), and the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI).
“My lab has always been interested in the rules that guide how the brain is built, and how, when those rules are broken, people develop autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and other behavioral disorders,” said LaMantia, who will be a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Virginia Tech College of Science and in the Department of Pediatrics in the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
Early in his career, LaMantia explored how nerve fibers called axons develop to connect the two hemispheres of the cerebral cortex, creating new methods to observe neural circuits in living systems in the process. He also helped develop some of the earliest techniques for imaging living nerve cells as they make their connections in the developing brain over time.
While an assistant professor of neurobiology at Duke University, LaMantia demonstrated that the forward portion of the brain known as the forebrain is built from the same molecular tool kit as limbs, hearts and facial bones.
With that understanding, he has been a leading investigator of DiGeorge syndrome, also known as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, which is caused by a missing portion of chromosome 22. Children born with this genetic mutation carry a high risk for autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia, as well as heart, face, and limb malformations.
One particular aspect of this syndrome in some children is a disruption of the brain’s circuitry that mediates the ability to swallow effectively and obtain nutrition – a potentially life-threatening condition.
LaMantia focuses on how genetic and molecular mechanisms influence the development of neural circuits that process information in the cerebral cortex. In addition, his lab studies how neural stem cells develop into specific cell types in the embryonic as well as adult nervous system.
He has also analyzed “simpler” parts of the brain including the olfactory system and brainstem centers that allow infants to be ready to feed successfully from birth onward. All of this work, LaMantia explains, is aimed at “understanding how the brain gets built to make sure key behaviors happen from early life through old age.”
“The group of colleagues at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute will give our work greater depth, because in addition to neural development, we also study cardiovascular development and the shared rules for making healthy brains and hearts,” LaMantia said. “I look forward to being in this new, collaborative environment, with access to the medical school and to the clinicians and patient populations at Carilion Clinic. That proximity will give us insight into how our work is relevant to clinical practice.”
In addition to research, LaMantia is devoted to transferring knowledge to new generations of students and scientists, and has helped redefine medical and undergraduate education in the discipline of neuroscience. Since 1991, he has been a co-author and senior editor of “Neuroscience,” (Sinauer/Oxford University Press) the best-selling and most widely adopted textbook in the field.
He has served as a regular member of several NIH Scientific Review Groups, also known as study sections, and continues to review for the NIH and other granting agencies in multiple disciplines, including neuroscience, genetics, and developmental biology.
LaMantia received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and his doctoral degree from Yale University. He became a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University School Medicine in St. Louis, before becoming an assistant professor at Duke University Medical Center, and associate professor then full professor at the University North Carolina School Medicine, Chapel Hill.