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MGA News

Spring 2004

Edward Lambert (1915-2003) of the LEMS (Lambert Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome)

Professor Nick Willcox

Picture of Edward LambertSadly, our beloved colleague, Professor Ed Lambert, died in Rochester, Minnesota, last July. For fifty years he had been a universally acknowledged expert on electromyography (EMG). We are especially grateful to him for recognising the distinction between MG and the LEMS in a classic report in 1956 with his Neurologist colleagues.

Born in Minneapolis, Ed Lambert grew up in Chicago, where he qualified as a doctor in about 1939. Soon afterwards, he did a PhD on the effects of oxygen and carbon dioxide on blood flow and heart function. He was then head-hunted by the Mayo clinic in 1943. Very interestingly, he was to work on the blackouts that fighter pilots got when subjected to strong G-forces. He himself was often used as a guinea pig, and blacked out 23 times.

Mercifully, that seemed not to have damaged his brain.

As in so many other fields, war accelerated advances in physiology too. Ed's own vital contributions included devices for monitoring blood pressure and simple tricks that the pilots could practise to prevent or limit their blackouts, some of them are still used today. The work culminated in the development of pressure suits (like those seen on films and TV); also in a Presidential Certificate of Merit for Ed himself in 1947.

He maintained these interests into the 1960s, but, after the war, he turned his mind mainly to EMG, which was still in its infancy. He was in the right place at the right time; the Mayo Clinic's Neurology centre was then, and still is, one of the foremost in the world. It now also has great strengths in the inherited myasthenias as well as MG, partly thanks to EdÕs expertise. In 1955-6, his colleague Dr Lee Eaton became interested in some unusual myasthenic patients with lung cancers (which, as we now know, are found only in around half of LEMS cases). It was Ed who noticed several key differences in the EMG, and in muscle "ignition", in this syndrome soon to be named after them. Most important was his evidence of reduced release - from the nerve endings - of the transmitter (ACh; "ignition key"). Typically also, the patients get stronger as they try harder (unlike in MG). It eventually turned out (in 1981) that the weakness is caused by an immune attack on the nerve endings. That was first shown by Dr Bethan Lang in Prof John Newsom-Davis' team - which is ironic, because Ed Lambert's wife, Dr Vanda Lennon, had crucially helped to show the same kind of explanation for MG back in 1973.

Ed did not rest on his laurels, which included Lifetime Achievement Awards from the American EMG Association among many others. He continued doing pioneering work on EMG methods, on neuropathies (eg in diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome), on motor neuron disease and on muscle disorders, including Lambert-Brody myopathy. Ed was renowned for his determination and stamina; indeed, he continued working until over 80. Having two syndromes named after him shows how widely respected and loved he was. He was also the most gentle and unassuming of characters. He was a great teacher too, and many of his trainees have done extremely well. He is greatly missed; it seems fitting to remember Isaac Newton's words (1676):

"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants"

We are grateful to The American Association of Electrodiagnostic Medicine for permission to reproduce the photograph of Dr. Lambert.

MGA NEWS Spring 2004
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