edward lammer, md
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Remembering Edward J. Lammer, MD

On February 20, 2016, the birth defects community lost one of its finest, Dr. Ed Lammer, a physician-scientist in the truest sense of the words. Those of us who were fortunate enough to work closely with Ed, or interact with him at scientific conferences, know Ed for his kind smile that was hidden under a bushy mustache/beard, a warm, engaging personality, and his passionate advocacy for children affected with genetic and congenital anomalies. There was no end for the compassion Ed held for the children and their families whom he cared for in clinic. He wanted all of his patients to have their best shot at a good life - a life as good as the one he and his loved ones enjoyed. And Ed truly had a life well lived.

The son of an Iowa schoolteacher and milkman, Ed was a gifted athlete who received his undergraduate education at Washington University in Saint Louis and his medical training at the University of Iowa. Following his pediatric residency in Iowa City, Dr. Lammer was an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA prior to pursuing a medical genetics fellowship with Dr. Lewis B. Holmes at Massachusetts General in Boston, MA. Ed received additional postdoctoral training at UCSF Medical School prior to establishing a brilliant career at the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) new investigator awardee working at Stanford University, and then at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute from which he retired in January.

As a pediatric geneticist and teratologist, Ed was an expert at the diagnosis of children with malformation complexes, and his keen understanding of genetics, epidemiology and teratology enabled him to make seminal contributions to literature, most notably about the risks involved to women of reproductive age being treated for cystic acne with the drug Accutane (Hoffmann-La Roche). His 1985 landmark paper in the New England Journal of Medicine described his evaluation of 150 Accutane compromised pregnancies and described the most serious human teratogen since Thalidomide in the 1960s. He continued to publish on risks associated with in utero exposure to Accutane to fully articulate the clinical manifestations of Accutane Embryopathy, and provided a unique insight into the underlying mechanisms of how this compound interfered with normal neural crest cell migration resulting in abnormal development. Ed also provided similar clinical and scientific insights into the teratogenicity of the anti-epileptic drug Depakene (Valproic Acid; Abbott Laboratories). Leaving behind a publication record of over 165 papers and many more to follow posthumously, Ed Lammer truly embodied the spirit of the Teratology Society’s F. Clarke Fraser award for gifted young investigators, as the first recipient of the award and the individual most like the namesake of this honor.

In recent years as the Principal Investigator of multiple NIH grants, Ed directed a research program focused on gene-environment interactions that compromised heart and craniofacial development. He collaborated widely with colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine, UC Berkeley, UCSF, and the University of Texas, who valued his impeccable intellectual honesty and his high standards, as much as his unusual generosity. First and foremost, Ed was always incredibly generous with his time. As someone who lived well into the 21st century without a cell phone - using only his trusted ‘soul pilot’ (index card in chest pocket) to monitor his time and whereabouts, Ed could always make time to chat, discuss a case, hear out an idea for a grant or provide valued input to a nascent manuscript. Ed was tremendously patient to teaching and mentoring students who would do a summer or semester stint in his lab. His mentoring of so many young minds will serve as an enduring testament of his patience and brilliance.

At conferences he would listen attentively, and invariably ask those deceptively simple questions that cut right to the meaning of the work being presented. Questions that illuminate any shortcuts or defects of logic. Questions that reveal that in the space of 15 minutes of listening to a presentation, that Ed had already thought more deeply about the subject than the presenter had, yet his manner of inquiry was never threatening, offensive or belittling. Ed was always kind to a fault, which is why scientists and clinicians young and old always gravitated towards Ed at meetings, hoping for a chance to get his insight into whatever they were working on, without fear of any kind of scientific shaming. Ed set the bar very high for his colleagues and his friends, but we all cherished the challenge, and wish he were still here to keep challenging us.

What sets Ed Lammer aside from most of his scientific and clinical colleagues was the balance he was able to achieve in life. Ed was a passionate man who had developed and enthusiastically embraced multiple interests and hobbies that shaped his non-professional life. First and foremost came his family, and Ed was lovingly devoted to his wife Dibsy, and their two children, Aaron and Ellie, in whom he was so very proud of all of their achievements. Ed was passionate about music, and although his tastes were wide ranging, he held a special fondness for Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. He loved the outdoors, whether it was hiking, mountaineering, bird watching, or fly-fishing, and he truly enjoyed sharing this passion with his many friends and colleagues. Ed also loved to share a great wine or two with friends, and he amassed a highly respectable collection in his Berkeley cellar.

Intellectual honesty, critical thinking, limitless generosity, compassionate commitment to children and their families, good wine and music, a brilliant pediatric geneticist/teratologist, a wonderful family man, an extraordinary mentor, and a gentle giant who made a real difference to children’s lives. This is what we think about when we remember our beloved friend, Ed Lammer.

Revised: Thursday, September 8, 2016 8:57 AM


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