Prof. Georgia Ramantani, MD, PhD, is a paediatrician, paediatric neurologist, epileptologist and neurophysiologist currently heading the division of EEG & Epilepsy at the Department of Neuropaediatrics, University Children’s Hospital Zurich, Switzerland. She is also a Professor of Paediatrics and Paediatric Neurology at the University of Zurich. Prof. Ramantani received most of her post-graduate training in Germany, and attended extended training courses in Tokyo, Japan and Cleveland, Ohio, USA. She received a doctorate in medicine from the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and a PhD in signal analysis from the University of Lorraine, France. Beyond her clinical activities, Prof. Ramantani currently heads a research team consisting of four resident researchers and multiple graduate and undergraduate students. In our interview, she talked about her career, passion for research and clinical practice, and the lessons learned while living in many foreign countries.
“Curing children provides hope for the future”
Prof. Ramantani graduated from the University of Thessaloniki Medical School, in her home country, Greece. She has always been fascinated by the “psychiatric, neurological, or even philosophical aspects of brain function”, she explains. During high school, she evaluated the possibility of studying philosophy, but then she decided that studying medicine would be the best way to pursue her passion. “I had the chance to move abroad and join a project in Heidelberg, Germany, which opened the doors to neurology for me. The complex interpretation of the results of that study shed light on the many aspects of brain function”, she explains. In that period, Prof. Ramantani acquainted herself with the topic of paediatric epilepsy surgery. “I realized that I had a good rapport with children and that working with them is a lot of fun”, she says with a smile. However, she remarks that there are also scientific reasons that pushed her to continue working in the field of paediatric neurology. “Children are in a developmental stage in which neurological processes change so fast that they get even more fascinating”. Prof. Ramantani also mentions the many emotional aspects involved in the possibility of curing children suffering from a severe disease. “It provides a lot of hope, as we can provide a solution in many of these cases, so that the nightmare stops and children can live a normal life”. Moreover, she explains that, while curing one child, the impact also reflects on the rest of the family. “You are not only changing the life of one single person, but of the whole family, and this is extremely rewarding.”
“My motto is avoid wasting time”
Prof. Ramantani has always been an advocate for early surgery in children with focal epilepsy. “My motto is avoid wasting time”, she says. Her many clinical studies on this topic led to her appointment as the Chair for the Paediatric Epilepsy Surgery Committee in the International League against Epilepsy. “We should be more generous in offering surgical treatments to younger children with severe epilepsies”, she states. Prof. Ramantani also describes her main research projects, which cover three different topics: electroencephalogram (EEG) signal analysis aimed at identifying new epilepsy biomarkers, MRI studies to better delineate epileptogenic brain lesions, and studies of cognitive functioning to evaluate the impact of surgical and non-surgical epilepsy treatments on the developing brain. Prof. Ramantani also explains that working with children did not lead to any particular drawbacks in her research projects. “Our patients and their parents are always willing to participate in research projects. They are aware that research is really important for progress in epilepsy, and they are disposed to help and support our work”, she concludes.
“Paediatric epilepsy surgery can be challenging but, in most cases, it is truly rewarding”
Prof. Ramantani explains that one of the main challenges in paediatric epilepsy surgery is that these interventions are very successful in stopping seizures but they may, in single cases, cause new neurological deficits. “Sometimes, I refer to the Little Mermaid fairy tale: the little mermaid has to decide whether she wants to have legs but lose her voice”. It is a huge decision for the parents of children with epilepsy but, in most cases, the results are very rewarding”. As Prof. Ramantani notes, “the dilemma is harder for children than for adults, as children are just starting their lives”. However, she points out that facing this decision is valuable as, “if we have success, we not only see improvements in terms of seizures, but also in cognitive, behavioural and quality of life outcomes”.
“Everything is possible, it just needs some effort”
Prof. Ramantani grew up in her native country, Greece, but she lived and worked in many different countries before moving to Switzerland, from Germany and Japan to the USA. She argues that living abroad has been an important growth experience, both personally and professionally. She states that facing many experiences abroad taught her that “everything is possible, it just needs some effort. By changing places, you start from zero, again and again, and this makes you recruit any skill that might be useful”. On a professional note, Prof. Ramantani explains that her experiences abroad turned helpful while being a member of international committees, and allowed her to integrate the many lessons she had learned into her current position. Also, in her opinion, living and working in many places and facing different cultures “makes you humbler and braver at the same time”. While talking about her current working experience in Switzerland, she mentions that the aspects she appreciates the most are the broad range and high quality of services offered to everyone by the healthcare system, and the strong support given to clinical research.
“I wish we can really make a difference and get the best results for our patients”
Talking about her future goals, Prof. Ramantani says that she hopes to offer more of the newest therapies to all children who may profit from them, and that her research projects will flourish and achieve ground-breaking results. “I hope that the people working with me will do great and be satisfied with their accomplishments. I wish we can really make a difference and achieve the best possible outcomes for our patients”, she asserts. Prof. Ramantani also remarks that, even though she likes covering political roles that allow her to broaden the impact of her work on patients’ lives, she aims to continue pursuing her two big passions: clinical practice and research. “I do not want to give up patient care”, she says. Prof. Ramantani explains that she also tries to balance her busy career with private life, doing her best to find time for her many hobbies: reading, listening to music, going to the cinema, theatre, and the opera, traveling and also engaging in modern dance and ballet. In her opinion, “it is always possible to find some spare time to cultivate your passions, it is just a matter of setting this goal”. Prof. Ramantani finally provides some tips to those who wish to follow her footsteps in a science career: “be motivated, choose a field that truly fascinates you, be ready to grab the opportunities offered by life and persevere”.