Judah Folkman Chair in Surgery in the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children's Hospital
Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School
Sunrise on Karp 11 ~ photo credit J. Sesen
About Dr. D'Amato
Dr. Robert D'Amato grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his B.A, M.D. and Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University, where his work focused on the elucidation of the etiology of Parkinson’s disease. He completed his Ophthalmology residency at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in 1992. After this training, Dr. D’Amato undertook a postdoctoral research fellowship in Dr. Judah Folkman’s Laboratory in the Vascular Biology Program at Children’s Hospital Boston, where he worked to develop anti-angiogenic therapies. He was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1994 and to Associate Professor in 2000. Dr. D’Amato became a Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School in 2010. He currently holds the Judah Folkman Chair in Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital and he leads the Karp Laboratory for Macular Degeneration Research in the Vascular Biology Program there.
Dr. D’Amato’s contributions to the field of angiogenesis began during his postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Folkman in 1992. During this time, he developed a novel system to screen existing drugs for anti-angiogenic activity. He reasoned that drugs that caused birth defects or amenorrhea could potential have unknown anti-angiogenic activity. By screening drugs with these reported side effects, he discovered the anti-angiogenic activity of thalidomide. At that time, thalidomide was a reviled drug used only for the treatment of leprosy. Dr. D’Amato and his group were the first to show that thalidomide inhibited angiogenesis and tumor growth in rabbits. Based on this work, Dr. D’Amato helped to initiate the first clinical trials to evaluate the effects of thalidomide on cancer progression. THALOMID was subsequently shown to be very effective in the treatment of multiple myeloma. Many studies have since demonstrated that bone marrow angiogenesis and angiogenic biomarkers are suppressed upon treatment with thalidomide, thereby confirming its anti-angiogenic effect in humans. Additionally, the anti-angiogenic activity of thalidomide is now an accepted mechanism of the drug’s teratogenic activity.
Dr. D'Amato went on to synthesize a large number of analogs of thalidomide. In 1994, he tested these next genertation drugs for anti-angiogenic activity and discovered that the most potent was amino-thalidomide (Pomalidomide/POMALYST). He further showed that amino-substituted thalidomide analogs have both anti-angiogenic activity and direct anti-tumor cell activity, which results in greater efficacy over thalidomide. This discovery led to the initiation of clinical trials in patients with multiple myeloma. The amino-substituted analogs, REVLIMID and POMALYST, were approved by the FDA in 2005 and 2013, respectively. To date, hundreds of thousands of myeloma patients have benefited from his research. Additionally, recently POMALYST was approved by the FDA for Kaposi Sarcoma in 2020, making it the first angiogenesis inhibitor approved for this vascular tumor.
In addition to his work on thalidomide, Dr. D’Amato and his laboratory have discovered that different strains of mice have vastly different angiogenic responses to the same stimulus. His work has established the major role of genetics in determining an individual's angiogenic responsiveness. Further elucidation of these genetic influences is expanding our ability to predict, and to potentially regulate, our susceptibility to angiogenesis - dependent diseases such as cancer, as well as a variety of ocular diseases including age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.
Dr. D’Amato is internationally recognized for his work in the field of anti-angiogenic therapies. He has taught at Harvard Medical School for over two decades and received the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary Distinguished Service Award in 2009. He has been supported by the NIH for approximately 15 years, has over 100 publications and holds ~40 patents. Dr. D’Amato is a member of the scientific advisory board for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.
Click here to read more on the story of Dr. D'Amato and a reviled drug's resurrection as a novel therapeutic for multiple myeloma
Click here to see the macular degeneration clip from 20/20
A 1995 clip from ABC television's flagship magazine program featuring Dr. D'Amato discussing the lab's early work on macular degeneration as well Edmund Aleksandrovich, an AMD sufferer and late founder of the Macular Degeneration Foundation.