AANEM’s Distinguished Researcher Award honors members who have made continuous significant contributions to clinical neurophysiological, NM, or MSK research. Based on his many years of dedicated research, outstanding clinical teaching, and care for patients with NM diseases, Anthony A. Amato, MD, has been awarded the 2022 Distinguished Researcher Award.
Amato’s passion for medicine ignited when he was young. “My father passed away when I was in junior high from a lengthy illness that inspired me to go into medicine.” Amato was the first person in his family to go to college, and he received a scholarship through the United States Air Force (USAF) for medical school. “I thought about aerospace medicine and NASA, and I completed extra training to get my “wings” as a Flight Surgeon. However, I found out that I got way too motion sick pulling Gs in training centrifuges and doing loops and spins in jets. I just did not have the ‘Right Stuff ’, so I stuck with neurology.”
“As most neurologists would tell you, I always liked solving puzzles and trying to figure out where the ‘lesion’ might be based. Trying to localize the lesion by determining their clinical, electrophysiological, and histopathological ‘phenotype’ has always been rewarding in this regard. Also, my best mentors were NM specialists, and they drew me into the field.”
Amato served 14 years as an officer in the USAF and received numerous decorations, including the Meritorious Service Medal. After service in the USAF, Amato was on staff at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio for 3 years before he was recruited to Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Amato started and directed the clinical neurophysiology fellowship and NM medicine fellowship at Harvard Partners (BWH/MGH). This is the largest NM training program in the country. He has mentored over 100 fellows, many of whom now direct NM programs across North America, and he has received numerous accolades for his teaching.
“I’ve been so lucky to be able to work with the brightest medical students, residents, and fellows that
I could possibly imagine. I’m constantly kept on my toes with their insightful questions and often learn as much from them as they do from me. I have had the extraordinary opportunity to work with the next generation of our academic leaders and watch them grow and prosper over the years,” said Amato
Amato was a founding member of the Muscle Study Group (MSG) and served on the Executive Committee. “Our first two studies were in inclusion body myositis (IBM). The third trial was my first National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant in which we did a trial of etanercept in dermatomyositis. The MSG has slowly grown to over 500 members across the world.”
The MSG not only does myopathy studies, but also trials regarding peripheral neuropathies, myasthenia, and motor neuron disease. Amato said the MSG is a great way for early-career physicians to learn from others in how to put together clinical trials and/or to at least take part as a site
“I have to thank Berch Griggs for being a tremendous mentor to me. He not only got me involved in the MSG and taught me how to do clinical trials, but also taught me how to review manuscripts when he was the editor for Neurology. This helped me a lot in my own writing of papers. His mentorship in this regard paved the way for me to serve on editorial boards for Muscle & Nerve and Neurology and for the past 7 years as associate editor for Neurology handling the neuromuscular manuscripts.”
Amato has been a primary investigator in many clinical research trials involving patients with a variety of NM disorders. “Much of my clinical research over the years has involved how to better diagnose IBM and being involved in treatment trials. We hope to start a Phase 3 trial in IBM on a drug developed by my colleague Steve Greenberg this fall. Currently, I am the principal investigator (PI) on an NIH-sponsored NeuroNEXT trial on ManNAc in patients with GNE myopathy that just started enrolling in April 2022.”
Amato is also currently an investigator in other clinical trials involving different forms of inflammatory myopathy, myasthenia gravis, and neuropathies. “My goal is to try to find better treatments for the various neuromuscular disorders we see and to train the next generation of clinical researchers.”
In addition to his impressive research and educational endeavors, Amato has been an active member of the AANEM since 1993. Amato has served on numerous committees, and he is currently Chair for the American Neuromuscular Foundation Research Committee. “I have had a great time serving as a member of the ANF Research Committee and the last couple years as chair. The best part is working with such outstanding colleagues on the committee, reviewing grants together, and the discussions. These committee members take a lot of time doing this because they, too, benefited from reviews of their grants and want to pay it forward,” said Amato. “I am constantly learning about cutting edge research by serving on this committee. Over the years the quantity and quality of the research grants have risen exponentially. By funding research, we are able to help train early- career investigators and advance new treatments for neuromuscular disorders. I think funding will continue to increase over the years.”
Amato advises early-career researchers to connect with fellow researchers. “Go to meetings, such as the AANEM’s and other societies’, and introduce yourself to other young researchers as well as senior investigators. Look for ways to collaborate and express your interest in clinical trials.”
He is looking forward to connecting with colleagues at the upcoming AANEM Annual Meeting in Nashville. “After these past 2+ years with COVID, I look forward to getting together with colleagues, hopefully seeing their faces without masks. This has always been the best part of the meeting for me. I also enjoy meeting new people whom I hope will become new friends.”
Amato would like to thank his wife, Mary, and children, Joe, Erin, Michael, and Katie for their support over the years. “I could not have done this journey without them.”