Mission and History

Our Mission

  • To cure brain and spinal tumors
  • To translate scientific advances in our research laboratories to state-of-the-art treatments for the patient
  • To provide the resources and support necessary for patients and their families to meet the challenges of living with a brain tumor

Our History


Paving the Road to Success  

The history of neuro-oncology at Duke spans virtually the entire history of the institution, beginning with the arrival of Barnes Woodhall, MD, from Johns Hopkins University in 1937. Upon his return from World War II, Dr. Woodhall was one of the first physicians to use chemotherapy for cancer of any type in the early 1950's. Serving as chief of neurosurgery, and later as second dean and chancellor, of the Duke University School of Medicine, Dr. Woodhall was a major force in the development of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Duke’s Neuro-Oncology Program, and the construction of the Cancer Center Isolation Facility.

Guy Odom, MD, arrived at Duke in 1943.  Dr. Odom held a James B. Duke Professorship of Neurosurgery and established the first neuropathology tumor laboratory as well as the brain tumor clinic, one of the oldest multidisciplinary clinics for cancer at Duke. Dr. Odom and Dr. Woodhall were founding members of the National Cancer Institute’s National Brain Tumor Study Group and provided crucial leadership in forming Duke’s Neuro-Oncology Program.

Reaching Out to Children and Families 

The second generation of neuro-oncology investigators included Stephen Mahaley, MD, PhD; Darell Bigner, MD, PhD; Allan Friedman, MD; Henry Friedman, MD; S. Clifford Schold, Jr., MD and Sandra Bigner, MD.

With the core team of investigators in place, the Center’s efforts received international recognition, becoming in 1984, the first in the nation designated by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke as a Specialized Research Center on Primary Tumors of the Central Nervous System with Dr. Darell Bigner as principal investigator.

In 1991, pediatric neuro-oncology, led by Dr. Henry Friedman, became a recognized program within the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Duke University Medical Center.
Equally important in shaping the clinical care provided at The Brain Tumor Center has been the philosophy that brain tumors impact not only the individual, but the entire family. To provide better family-centered care, The Brain Tumor Family Support Program at Duke began in 1991. The Family Support Program established important components that help families cope with the diagnosis of a brain tumor.  

An Ambitious Drive 

With continued growth in patient accrual, the program officially became the Duke Division of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology with Dr. Henry Friedman serving as chief. In 1997, the pediatric and adult neuro-oncology clinical services merged into a multi-departmental joint program known as The Brain Tumor Center at Duke.

Strong leadership and the commitment of every individual in The Brain Tumor Center led to its rapid growth over the years. With a staff of dedicated researchers, clinicians, social workers and nurses, the Center continues to make major advances in treating brain and spinal tumors. In 2002 Duke received a Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) Award in Brain Cancer from the National Cancer Institute with Dr. Darell Bigner designated as principal investigator. In 2004, the Center became one of the nation’s four fully-funded brain cancer SPOREs. And, in 2003, Duke became the nation’s only fully-funded Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation Institute.

In October 2005, the Preston Robert Tisch family of New York, donated $10 million to support cancer research at The Brain Tumor Center at Duke and the Duke Cancer Institute. In recognition of the Tisch family’s gift, the Center was renamed The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke by the Duke University Board of Trustees.

Full Speed Ahead 

Today, Dr. Darell Bigner directs the Center and Dr. Allan Friedman and Dr. Henry Friedman serve as deputy directors.  John Sampson, MD, PhD is associate deputy director. The Center houses more than 250 full-time employees devoted exclusively to neuro-oncology and encompasses laboratory, clinical, and quality of life/supportive care research programs; patient and family support programs; administrative support services; and adult and pediatric clinical care services.

The Duke Cancer Institute’s Neuro-Oncology Research Program includes 31 researchers representing 10 departments in the Duke University School of Medicine and one within Duke University. Annually, these investigators are awarded approximately $16 million (direct costs) in grant and contract support. The Center has three neuro-oncology program faculty members (Dr. Darell Bigner, Dr. Henry Friedman and Dr. Roger McLendon) among the top 20 most cited authors worldwide under the topic of “Glioblastoma.” The center exceeds the number and ranking of all other U.S. institutions.

Currently, the Center sees more than 800 new patients annually from local, national and international sources. A recent breakdown of Center referrals indicated patients from 35 states and 11 foreign countries. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has given the Center the highest rating of “outstanding” for each of the last 10 years. The Center conducts more groundbreaking research, sees more brain tumor patients, has more experience with more types of brain tumors, and provides more innovative treatment than most other centers in the world. 

At the core of The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center’s success lies the commitment of countless physicians, nurses, researchers, and staff—all with the collective goal of caring for patients and their families, improving the quality of everyday life and ultimately finding a cure for brain tumors.

Read the complete Timeline of the history and accomplishments of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.


This article comes from The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke   https://www.cancer.duke.edu/btc
The URL for this story is:   https://www.cancer.duke.edu/btc/modules/missionmain27/index.php?id=1