The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke

History | Timeline


Barnes Woodhall, MDThe brain tumor program at Duke is founded by Barnes Woodhall, MD, as one of the first brain tumor research and clinical programs in the United States.


Guy Odom, MD

Guy Odom, MD, joins Duke and establishes its first neuropathology tumor laboratory as well as the brain tumor clinic, one of the oldest multidisciplinary cancer clinics at Duke.


Dr. Woodhall becomes one of the first physicians to use chemotherapy on brain tumors.


 Dr. Woodhall becomes dean of Duke’s School of Medicine.


Darell Bigner, MD, PhD

Darell Bigner, MD, PhD, arrives at Duke as a medical student. He will remain at Duke for the next 49 years, except for two years at the National Institutes of Health and a year as a postdoctoral fellow in Germany. Dr. Bigner holds the Edwin L. Jones, Jr. and Lucille Finch Jones Cancer Research Professorship. He serves as director of the center and is considered one of the leading authorities on brain tumors in the world.


A journal article reports on the more than 300 cases of intracranial metastases and their neurosurgical treatment at Duke from 1938 to 1962. Half of these patients received neurosurgical treatment; about one-fifth of them live at least a year and 5 percent live 10 years, proving that surgery on single lesions has significant effect.

Late 1960s, early 1970s

Steve Mahaley, MDSteve Mahaley, MD, PhD, a second-generation investigator at The Brain Tumor Center, is one of the first researchers to study immunological characteristics of human gliomas; he also studies relationships between chemotherapy and immunology of brain tumors.


North Carolina sees a remarkable rise in the practice of neurosurgery. In 1937, Dr. Woodhall was the only neurosurgeon in North Carolina; by 1971, there are 32.


The Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center is formed. Dr. Darell Bigner and Dr. Steve Mahaley are listed as “key investigators.”


Allan Friedman, MDAllan Friedman, MD, joins Duke. He currently serves as chief of the Division of Neurosurgery and holds the Guy L. Odom Professorship of Neurosurgery, established in 2001 by the former neurosurgery trainees of Dr. Woodhall and Dr. Odom.

Dr. Bigner, with Dr. Woodhall’s support, designs and obtains a construction grant for the Cancer Center Isolation Facility, which allows investigators to work in isolated laboratories when doing research that requires biosafety II, III, and IV containment.

1981 Henry Friedman, MDHenry Friedman, MD, joins Duke as a senior research fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology. He is now deputy director of The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center and holds the James B. Powell Jr. Professorship of Neuro-Oncology.

Dr. Darell Bigner, Dr. Henry Friedman and Dr. S. Clifford Schold Jr., find a way to implant human brain tumor cells in mice genetically engineered to have inhibited immune systems. Their goal is to treat human brain tumors in mice with different drugs to find one suitable for each individual patient, thus sparing patients the stress and negative side effects of ineffective drugs.

1983 Roger McLendon, MD, comes to Duke as a resident. He is now chief of Neuropathology and Surgical Pathology; director, Anatomic Pathology Services; and, director of the Brain Tumor Center Tissue Bank.
1984 Herbert Fuchs, MD, PhD, arrives at Duke as a medical student. Today, he serves as Division Chief, Pediatric Neurosurgery.
1986 The Peter Preuss Foundation makes a major contribution to support brain research by establishing the Preuss Laboratory for Brain Tumor Research, with Dr. Darell Bigner as director and Dr. Henry Friedman and Dr. Allan Friedman as associate directors.

Pediatric neuro-oncology becomes a recognized program with the Duke Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, and The Brain Tumor Family Support Program at Duke is founded.

Dr. Jim and Anne Powell establish the James B. Powell, Jr. Professorship in memory of their son. This professorship is currently held by Dr. Henry Friedman.

1992 The Duke Brain Tumor Program establishes a board of advisors.
1994 Angels Among UsThe Duke Forest 5K (now Angels Among Us) is organized by Cary and Kate Harrison, Terry Rose, and other volunteers to raise funds for brain tumor research. The efforts of hundreds of volunteers, patients, and families raised a total of over $9 million by 2010.

A vaccine developed by Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers shows promise in mice by treating brain tumors that had been thought “off limits” for the immune system.

Drug studies begun in baker’s yeast cells give rise to a new therapy for brain tumors at Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, with the hope of turning promising laboratory findings into an effective new drug.

1996 HopebuildersHopebuilders 5K fundraising run is organized by William and Gigi Harris and Marc and Mattye Silverman. Their efforts establish the Margaret Harris and David Silverman Professorship for Neuro-Oncology Research, currently held by Francis Ali-Osman, DSc.

Pediatric and adult neuro-oncology clinical services are merged into a multidepartmental joint program forming The Brain Tumor Center at Duke.

Duke cancer and biochemistry specialists find that glioblastoma multiforme tumors that had become resistant to chemotherapeutic agents showed defects in the cellular mismatch repair system, a key factor in quelling cancer cells.

Jim and Mary Helen Dalton, members of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Board of Overseers, pledge $1.25 million to support brain tumor research.

A gift from the Tim & Tom Gullikson Foundation ensures the continued development of the family support program and services.

1998 In initial clinical trials, Duke researchers Dr. Darell Bigner and Michael Zalutsky, PhD, significantly extend the survival of patients suffering the most malignant brain cancers by injecting antibodies directly into the cancerous region. The antibodies carry cancer-killing radioactive iodine-131 to the tumor cells.

Dr. Gururangan and patientSri Gururangan, MRCP (UK), joins Duke to direct the pediatric neuro-oncology clinical activities.

David Cory Adamson, MD, PhD, arrives at Duke as a neurosurgery resident and joins the faculty in 2005. Dr. Adamson directs the Molecular Neuro-Oncology Laboratory and is head of the Neuro-Surgery Service at the Durham VA Hospital.



Jimmy Matthews, member of the Duke Brain Tumor Program Board of Advisors, establishes the Joyce Carroll Matthews Brain Tumor Research Endowment Fund in memory of his mother and donates over $1 million for brain tumor research at Duke.

In the first study of its kind, Duke researchers use standardized methods to identify neurologic and psychiatric problems in adult brain tumor patients shortly after diagnosis, exploring specific issues affecting patients’ quality of life.


The Rory David Deutsch Foundation establishes the Rory David Deutsch Memorial Brain Tumor Research Endowment Fund for pediatric brain tumor research with a pledge of $2 million. The foundation makes another $1 million commitment in 2010.

Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure is founded by the Case family in memory of Dan Case. The family pledges $5 million to The Brain Tumor Center at Duke.

In an early-phase clinical trial, patients with cancerous brain tumors become the first to be treated with an intriguing new class of drugs called “immunotoxins” – part tumor-recognizing protein, part bacterial toxin.


Ed Bradley and Henry FriedmanA 40-minute profile of patients and doctors of The Brain Tumor Center is aired nationally on the CBS program 60 Minutes.

The National Cancer Institute awards the Center a brain cancer SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) planning grant with Dr. Darell Bigner as principal investigator.

A $6 million award from the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation establishes the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation Institute at Duke devoted exclusively to pediatric brain tumor research. A second gift of $6 million is awarded in 2008.

2002 Dr. Spicehandler and Henry FriedmanThe Jonathan Spicehandler Invitational Golf Tournament is organized and leads to the establishment of the Jonathan Spicehandler Professorship for Neuro-Oncology, currently held by Dr. Michael Zalutsky.

Ruth and Gerhard Cless establish the Bryan Cless Brain Tumor Research Fund and donate over $6 million to support brain tumor research at Duke.

Oscar Ellis and Anne Colville donate $1 million and establish the Oscar W. Ellis and Anne Colville Brain Tumor Research Fund.

Park B. Smith establishes the Carol R. Smith Faculty Research Endowment Fund with a gift of $1 million.

2003 In a daring yet successful experiment, Matthias Gromeier, MD, and his team combine the cancer-killing properties of poliovirus with a harmless genetic coding element from the common cold. The modified virus creates a remarkably strong anti-cancer agent, rapidly killing cancer cells in laboratory cell cultures and in animals without causing polio.
2004 Tug McGraw CenterA gift from the Tug McGraw Foundation establishes The Tug McGraw Center for Neuro-oncology Quality of Life Research at The Brain Tumor Center.
2004 The Brain Tumor Center is awarded one of the nation’s four fully funded SPORE awards in brain cancer from the National Cancer Institute, a total of $12 million over 5 years.
2005 The Preston Robert Tisch family and Dr. FriedmanThe Preston Robert Tisch family of New York donates $10 million to support cancer research at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center and The Brain Tumor Center, which is renamed in recognition of the gift.
2005 Dr. J. Robert Teabeaut II, member of the Duke Brain Tumor Program Board of Advisors, leaves an estate gift of over $2.2 million to support the brain tumor research program at Duke.
2006 Gerald Grant, MD, was recruited as a second pediatric neurosurgeon.

An anonymous donor gives $5 million to Duke to establish two endowed research funds, one named for Dr. Allan Friedman and one for Dr. Henry Friedman. These funds can be converted into professorships in the future.

Stan and Melinda Epperson, members of the Duke Brain Tumor Program Board of Advisors, pledge $1 million, in memory of their son, to establish the Jeffery Thomas Epperson Memorial Endowment Fund.

Dr. Darell Bigner receives a Doctor of Medicine (honoris causa) degree from the University of Lund, Sweden.


Dr. Allan Friedman receives international attention for performing surgery on Senator Ted Kennedy and newspaper columnist Robert Novak, each of whom had a brain tumor.

Dr. Darell Bigner receives the Zuelch Prize, Germany’s most prestigious award for basic neurological research.

John Sampson, MD, PhD, shows that a vaccine aimed at inducing immunity to glioblastoma multiforme has more than doubled the survival time in patients.

Chay Kuo, MD, PhD, wins three major awards for his research in brain tumors: Director’s New Innovator Award of $1.5 million from the National Institutes of Health; Distinguished Scientist Award from the Sontag Foundation for $600,000; and Packard Fellow in Science and Engineering Award from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for $875,000.

Duane Mitchell, MD, PhD, finds that by using a vaccine to target a common herpes virus found in up to 80 percent of Americans, doctors may be able to extend the lives of patients diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme.


The FDA approves the drug Avastin for recurrent glioblastomas thanks largely to Dr. Henry Friedman’s efforts to get approval from the drug maker. Dr. James Vredenburgh and Dr. Friedman discover that the drug – already approved for other cancers – would be effective in fighting glioblastomas. This is the first new drug approved for glioblastomas in more than a decade.

Hai Yan, MD, PhD, and a team of Duke researchers make an exciting discovery of mutations in two genes that could become therapeutic targets in malignant gliomas. The research is published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Darell Bigner and Dr. Hai Yan are part of a group of five researchers who win the National Brain Tumor Society’s first “Founders Award for Research Excellence” for groundbreaking work in the major collective advancement in the genomic analysis of gliomas. 

Lori C. Pickens, MHA arrives as the Administrative Director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.


Oren Becher, MD, is recruited, with financial assistance from the Rory David Deutsch Foundation, to study central nervous system tumors and new glioma treatment regimens in children.

Dr. John Sampson and his experimental vaccine research continue to bring national and international exposure. Preliminary findings from the clinical studies show the use of the vaccine prolongs life.

Yiping He, PhD, arrives at Duke to work with Dr. Darell Bigner and Dr. Hai Yan to expand Duke’s ncogenomic program, focusing on brain tumor genetics, tumor biology, and biomarker studies.


Dr. Darell Bigner receives a perfect peer review score on a new clinical program project grant from the National Cancer Institute. The achievement provides $18 million over five years to support clinical trials for neoplastic meningitis from breast and lung carcinoma, a vaccine trial for glioblastoma, and an immunotoxin trial for glioblastoma.

A discovery by scientists at Duke and Johns Hopkins University could increase the chances for an effective combination of drug therapy to treat the second-most common type of brain tumor.

Duke researchers find a “fountain of youth” that sustains the production of new neurons in the brains of rodents is believed to be present in the human brain as well. Dr. Chay Kuo is senior author of the study.

Scientists at Duke discover that genetic mutations found in brain tumors can alter tumor metabolism. Dr. Hai Yan led a collaborative group of researchers to conduct the study, including Dr. Yiping He and Dr. Darell Bigner.

Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure and The V Foundation announce a $1 million research grant to Dr. Hai Yan to further develop novel approaches to target gliomas.

Carrie Muh, MD, is recruited to join the pediatric neurosurgical team.


Brain tumor patients now are seen in the new Duke Cancer Center building, the first building at Duke dedicated solely to the care of patients with cancer.

Dale and Debra Phelon establish the Dale and Debra Phelon Brain Tumor Research Fund with a pledge of $2.5 million for glioblastoma research.

The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke includes five neuro-oncologists for the adult service. Dr. Henry Friedman, Dr. Katherine Peters, Dr. Annick DesjardinsDr. Tulika Ranjan, and Dr. Gordana Vlahovic.

On April 28, Angels Among Us raises an all-time high of $1,802,475. The efforts of hundreds of volunteers, patients and families will help raise a total of more than $12 million by 2012. Angels Among Us will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2013.

Dr. Darell Bigner receives a five-year and more than $14 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. He and co-investigators Dr. John Sampson and Dr. Michael Zalutsky received a perfect score upon peer review of their grant. Such an outstanding score represents independent external validation of the excellence of clinical research at The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. 

2013 Angels Among Us celebrates it's 20th Anniversary with a total of $2,015,618 raised at it's annual event on April 20. Hundreds of patients, families, and volunteers have helped to raise over $14 million for brain tumor research over the past 20 years.

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We Believe

We Believe...

We believe in the healing power of hope.

We honor the human spirit during times of wellness, illness, and the end of life.

We value family as defined by the patient.

We believe patients and families are empowered when offered information and the tools to make informed choices.

We take pride in professionalism through collaboration, communication, trust, and respect for one another.

We acknowledge that brilliant medicine and thoughtful care come from a team approach and collective responsibility.

We believe that through scientific innovations we will develop better therapies, improve quality of life, and achieve a cure.

—Staff of The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke