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Hunterian lab students conducting researchStudents conducting research at the Hunterian laboratory, circa 1905.

From The Special Field: A History of Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins by Neil A. Grauer, ©2015

The nation’s first experimental surgery laboratory, the Hunterian initially was established in 1895 by Hopkins Medicine’s first dean, pathologist William Welch, and founding surgeon-in-chief William Halsted to conduct scientific research for improving techniques in surgery and pathology. (It is named for 17th century Scottish physician John Hunter, the father of scientific surgery.)

In 1904, Halstead appointed Harvey Cushing, who had come to Hopkins as a surgical resident in 1896 and joined the faculty in 1901, to head the laboratory. Cushing, whose surgical and scientific interests had begun centering on disorders of the nervous system — and who became the first to declare neurosurgery a separate specialty — refocused the Hunterian’s mission on neurosurgical research and techniques.

Under Cushing and his successors, Walter Dandy, D. Earl Walker and Donlin Long, researchers in the Hunterian made significant discoveries and devised important innovations that had substantial impact on patients requiring either brain surgery or other operative procedures. In 1991, Henry Brem, then an assistant professor of neurosurgery, re-established the Hunterian Neurosurgical Laboratory’s focus on novel treatments for brain tumors. The strong tradition of performing basic research with clinical relevance has continued to this day.

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