University of California: In Memoriam, 1986

Peter Wilhelm Lampert, Pathology: San Diego


Peter Wilhelm Lampert was an internationally renowned experimental and clinical neuropathologist and professor and chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of California, San Diego.

Dr. Lampert was born in Munich, Germany, on April 9, 1929. He was the eldest son of six children and had to endure the hardships of wartime during childhood. He received premedical education in Germany and studied medicine at the University of Montpellier (Montpellier, France), a famous institution dating back to the thirteenth century, where he met his future wife, Anne Lutchmaya; at the Sorbonne in Paris, France; and at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University (Frankfurt, Germany), where he was awarded the degree of doctor of medicine in 1955. His postgraduate education included a rotating internship at St. Mary's Hospital (Knoxville, Tennessee), and a one-year pathology residency at Colorado State Hospital (Pueblo, Calorado), and from 1957 to 1961 residencies in anatomic pathology, clinical pathology, neuropathology, and internal medicine at the Toronto General Hospital. It was during this time in Toronto, while training with George Olszewski, that he developed his interest in neuropathology and played a strong role in establishment of the Canadian Neuropathology Association. In 1962 he became a diplomate of the American Board of Pathology (anatomic pathology and neuropathology).

Lampert's professional positions included a lectureship in pathology at the University of Toronto (1960-61), appointments as assistant and associate pathologist at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (Washington, D.C.) from 1961 to 1965, a clinical associate professorship in pathology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. from 1963 to 1969, and service as chief of experimental neuropathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (1965-69).

In 1969 Lampert was appointed professor of pathology and head of neuropathology at the new University of California School of Medicine at

San Diego. This position was accompanied by appointments as visiting investigator at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation (La Jolla, California), consultant in pathology for the Veterans Administration Medical Center (La Jolla), and consultant in neuropathology for the Naval Regional Medical Center (San Diego). In 1979 Dr. Lampert was named chairman of the Department of Pathology and assumed his second term in this post two years before his death.

Lampert believed it his civic duty to render government and community service, including occasional medicolegal testimony. For such service he always declined remuneration, believing that expert opinion should be given without recompense. During his distinguished career, he served on many editorial boards including those of Laboratory Investigation and the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology. He also served on National Institutes of Health study sections and Food and Drug Administration advisory panels. He had been a member of the American Board of Pathology Test Committee (neuropathology) and president of the American Association of Neuropathologists.

Lampert was author of more than 150 scientific articles, mostly in experimental neuropathology. He was internationally known for his investigations of the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis, an area of interest which he first expressed in his medical school thesis in 1955. Impressed by Lumsden's demonstrations of oligodendroglial loss in multiple sclerosis and by epidemiologic evidence favoring a viral etiology, Lampert sought animal models of demyelinating disease. The last fifteen years of his research was devoted to the study of two demyelinating murine viral encephalomyelitides. He was especially proud of his electron micrographs demonstrating viral infection of oligodendroglia inducing proliferation of these cells and abnormalities of remyelination. His most elegant work was probably the description of the fine structural changes of experimental allergic neuritis, but his most cited papers dealt with regenerative, degenerative, and dystrophic changes of axons. Attention to aesthetics as well as scientific rigor ran like a subconscious tide through his papers. He would tolerate no technical shortfall, recognizing that lack of elegance in presentation would subvert the results of good work.

Although he was a prolific experimentalist, Lampert was also held in high esteem as a clinical neuropathologist and as an exceptionally skilled electron microscopist. His opinion about the pathologic diagnosis of muscle, nerve, and brain disease was sought world-wide, as evidenced by the myriad of specimens and slides which appeared weekly at his office door. As a department chairman, he was known to be an outstanding administrator. His effective reorganization of the Department of Pathology and the Division of Experimental Pathology stand as testimonies to his administrative and organizational skills.


Peter Lampert's teaching was marked by a crisp, incisive style of delivery supplemented by beautiful illustrations derived from his own research and practice. While he strove to teach basics with uncommon clarity, students remember in particular the film he liked to show of Kuru patients in New Guinea. Having drawn their attention by its overtones of cannibalism, he would patiently explain that it was through cuts and abrasions that the virus infected its host, rather than by the cannibalism itself. Although he loved to weave research themes into his teaching, his first goal was to leave the students with practical information for subsequent hours of clinical need. Later in his career, he became very eloquent about the neuropathology of boxing--his only stated crusade. He was repelled by a sport whose object is to inflict injury. Knowing that it would not easily be stopped, he hoped to disseminate his concerns through medical education. He emphasized that the dangers of boxing lie in brain injury from repetitive pummelling rather than from dramatic “knockouts” in the ring.

Lampert found relaxation in skiing and camping with his three children, Dominique, Michael, and Sylvie. His annual bicycle trips with his son Michael, down the Oregon coast always provided many happy hours of discussion later. In addition, rose gardening provided Lampert with great pleasure.

In the fall of 1985, Peter discovered that he had a malignant lymphoma. Undaunted and in typical “Lampert” fashion he decided to fight it all the way. He told his department that “we will get through this too.” His strategic plan included multiple-agent chemotherapy and total-body irradiation accompanied by autologous bone-marrow transplantation in Seattle. Finally, having learned that all his efforts had been unsuccessful, he returned to his home in La Jolla, where he spent the remaining two and one-half weeks of his life. He bore his last illness with extraordinary bravery, rising to his final challenge with his characteristic mixture of toughness and humor while giving and receiving loving strength from the family that was the center of his life.

It is hard to describe a truly exceptional man, but the qualities we remember most are a mixture of contrasts. Peter Lampert was businesslike but humorous, intellectually rigorous but open to new ideas, vigorous in conviction but flexible in debate. Above all, he had a wonderfully supple intellect, a constant interest in new directions, a willingness to confront difficult problems but also to consider opposing points of view, and an impulse to quick decision tempered by a great sense of fairness. His students remember his delight in implanting new ideas in the minds of others, encouraging their work and giving them the credit. He knew that progress in science rests more in the totality of effort than in satisfying personal ambitions. His untimely loss is most keenly felt by family, colleagues, and friends, but his memory is our consolation.


In the words of William Shakespeare:

He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one...
Exceeding wise, fair spoken, and persuading;
To those men that sought him
Sweet as summer.

David N. Bailey Charles E. Davis Henry C. Powell

About this text
Courtesy of University Archives, The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000;
Title: 1986, University of California: In Memoriam
By:  University of California (System) Academic Senate, Author
Date: 1986
Contributing Institution:  University Archives, The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000;
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