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Dr. Harvey B Sarnat, Sr. Associate Editor of Developmental Malformations

This month's Featured Contributor, Harvey B Sarnat MD FRCPC MS, is a founding Editorial Board member and Sr. Associate Editor of the Developmental Malformations subspecialty for MedLink Neurology. Dr. Sarnat is Professor of Pediatrics, Pathology (Neuropathology), and Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Calgary (Canada), where he has practiced since 1981 except for a decade spent on faculty at the University of Washington (Seattle) and then UCLA (Los Angeles), returning to Calgary in 2004. He is board-certified in pediatrics and neurology in the United States and in neurology by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. His residency training in pediatrics was at the University of Illinois (Chicago), and his residencies in child neurology and neuropathology were at the University of Virginia (Charlottesville).

His academic interests and most research publications over many years are in the fields of neuroembryology, developmental (fetal and neonatal) neuropathology, brain malformations, neonatal neurology, and the neuropathology of childhood epilepsy. He serves on the editorial boards of nine journals and has 190 research publications in peer-reviewed journals. He has authored, co-authored, or edited 12 textbooks and has contributed chapters to 120 other specialty books and monographs. He serves on the ILAE Commission on Neuropathology. Dr. Sarnat has mentored numerous residents over decades in both pediatric neurology and neuropathology from several countries, some of whom later became division heads.

Distinguished awards include giving the keynote Gordon Mathieson Lecture at the 50th-anniversary meeting of the Canadian Association of Neuropathologists in 2010 and again in 2021, the Bernard Sachs Research Award and Lecture at the 45th annual meeting of the Child Neurology Society in 2016, and having an annual endowed lectureship in his name at the University of Calgary, the Harvey B. Sarnat Developmental Neuroanatomy and Neuropathology Lectureship, since 2013. A Harvey Sarnat Clinical Research Fellowship in Neonatal Neurocritical Care was announced in 2022 by the Section of Neonatology of the University of Calgary. He is a frequently invited speaker at many medical congresses and institutions within Canada and internationally in Europe, Latin America, Japan, Australia, and the United States.

Q & A:

Tell us about your early background (ie, parents, where you grew up, education).

My grandparents all immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1912—my maternal grandparents from Latvia and my paternal grandparents from Belarus. My father founded a company that sold wholesale drugstore supplies, including prescription medications. I was born and spent my childhood in Chicago and attended the University of Illinois where I earned a BS degree in Zoology. I then continued at the University of Illinois for medical school in a joint program that also awarded me an MS degree in Neuroanatomy. I did residencies in pediatrics at the University of Illinois Hospitals and later pediatric neurology and neuropathology at the University of Virginia.

What or who motivated you to pursue a clinical or scientific career? How did you get interested in neurology and your subspecialty?

I had always had an interest in biology and in animal development and comparative anatomy, in particular, at least since high school. I was inspired by some excellent professors of zoology, human anatomy, and the nervous system, so pediatric neurology and developmental neuropathology were naturally attractive specialties to me in my career choices.

Did you have any mentors who guided or inspired you?

I was first inspired by a man whom I never had the good fortune to meet personally because of a generational gap: Professor Santiago Ramón y Cajal of Spain, who is the father of developmental neuroanatomy and whose works I already was reading during my undergraduate studies of zoology. I was fortunate to have a series of excellent mentors during my residency training: Lyell J Thomas (zoology); LMH Larramendi (Neuroanatomy); Fritz Dreifuss (pediatric neurology); and Martin G Netsky (neuropathology). Other mentors who influenced my career in my early faculty years were John H Menkes and Robert HA Haslam (pediatric neurologists) and N Barry Rewcastle (neuropathologist).

What do you consider your most significant career achievement to date?

In my academic career, my most lasting or original published research contributions have been:

  1. The Sarnat Grading Scale Of Neonatal Encephalopathy (1976) is now a still highly-cited classic because it was the first study of its type and was confirmed as valid by subsequent investigators. It has been used worldwide in neonatal intensive care nurseries.
  2. First description of neonatal olfactory reflexes (1978).
  3. Studies of the brains of simple animals, such as planarian flatworms and amphioxus, to better understand the origins and functional organization of the human nervous system (1987 to present).
  4. Acridine orange fluorochrome for nucleic acid detection in tissue sections of fetal brain, metabolic encephalopathies and myopathies, and in brains of simple animals (planarians; leeches; salamanders; tadpoles) (1984-1992).
  5. Description of the sequence of synaptogenesis in most regions of the brain of human fetuses of a range of gestational ages, using synaptophysin immunoreactivity in tissue sections from autopsy in a long series of publications (1998 to present).
  6. Further studies of the development of the olfactory system and its malformations, both clinical and neuroanatomical findings (2016 to present).
  7. Application of immunocytochemical markers of neuronal maturation to the study of maturation of various cerebral structures of normal brain, in cerebral malformations and in peripheral neuroblastic tumors (1998 to present).
  8. Contributions to the neuropathology of epilepsy and focal cortical dysplasias.
  9. Member of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) Commission on Neuropathology (2014 to present), including lectures and microscopy courses for pathologists in various countries (eg, United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, Peru, and Mexico).
  10. Member of Editorial Boards for peer review of nine journals of pediatric neurology and neuropathology, as well as Sr. Associate Editor of MedLink Neurology for CNS malformations (1994 to present), and Associate Editor of the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences (1884-1992). Also papers on semantic precision in neurology and neuropathology.

Special Awards and Recognitions

  • Dr. Peter G. Danis Memorial Lecturer. Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. St. Louis, Missouri. April 17, 1991.
  • Carrell-Krusen Award for research contributions in neuromuscular diseases. Citation for studies on the pathogenesis of congenital myopathies. Dallas, Texas. February 24, 1994.
  • John Lekius Memorial Lecturer. Western Australian Neurological Society and Princess Margaret Hospital for Children. Perth, Australia. November 12, 1994.
  • Herman and Faye Sarkowsky Chair in Pediatric Neurology. (Associated with the administrative position as Division Head.) University of Washington School of Medicine. Seattle, Washington. March 1, 1994-December 31, 1998.
  • Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences. “Distinguished Reviewer of the Year.” Awarded at Canadian Neurological Societies Federation Annual Meeting. Victoria, British Columbia. June 20, 2008.
  • Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Professor of Neuropathology and Royal College Lecturer. McMaster University. Hamilton, Ontario. May 29, 2009.
  • Neonatal Society, U.K. 50th Anniversary Celebration in Bristol, U.K. The 50 most influential articles in neonatology over the past 50 years were selected. My 1976 paper on the clinical grading of neonatal encephalopathy was selected as contribution #4 in importance. 2009.
  • Gordon Mathieson Invited Member Lecturer. 50th Anniversary Meeting of the Canadian Association of Neuropathologists. Toronto, Ontario. October 13-16, 2010.
  • Harvey B. Sarnat Annual Honorary Lectureship in Developmental Neuroanatomy and Neuropathology. University of Calgary and Alberta Children’s Hospital. Initiated May 6, 2013.
  • Bernard Sachs Research Award and Lecture. 45th Annual Meeting of the Child Neurology Society. United States. October 27, 2016.
  • Outstanding Reviewer of the Year 2016. Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences. Presented at 52nd Annual Meeting of Canadian Neurological Sciences Federation. Victoria, British Columbia. June 23, 2017.
  • Harvey B. Sarnat Annual Endowed Lectureship in Developmental Neuroanatomy and Neuropathology. University of Calgary and Alberta Children’s Hospital. 2016 to present.
  • Harvey Sarnat Clinical Research Fellowship in Neonatal Neurocritical Care. University of Calgary, Department of Paediatrics, Division of Neonatology. Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 2022.
  • Lecture in Honor of Drs. HB Sarnat and L Flores-Sarnat. 2nd International Congress on Neurodevelopment. Universidad Autónoma de México. Mexico City, Mexico. September 8-10, 2022.

Questions or Comment?

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