Formidable Recruit

Allen devised landmark neurosurgical operations.

Published in Hopkins Medicine - Summer 2020

Soon after Donlin Long (faculty, 1974–present) signed on as director of Johns Hopkins’ new Department of Neurosurgery in 1973, he asked George S. Allen to be his first faculty recruit.

“I didn’t ask Don what he was going to pay me; I didn’t ask him anything, except I said I’ve got to have a lab to continue my research,” Allen recalled three decades later.

That was precisely what Long wanted Allen (faculty, 1975–84) to do. Over the next nine years, Allen devised and perfected landmark neurosurgical operations, developed important new uses for existing medications, and rose rapidly in the academic ranks to a full professorship.

Allen died on Dec. 7, 2019. He was 77.

In Johns Hopkins’ operating rooms, Allen devised and performed the world’s first intracranial vertebral endarterectomy to remove blockage-causing plaque in the vertebral arteries and significantly improved the procedure for carotid endarterectomies, performed to prevent strokes in patients who have carotid artery disease.

Allen’s research at Johns Hopkins showed that nimodipine, a calcium-blocking drug, was extremely effective in preventing arterial spasms following operations for subarachnoid hemorrhages. It remains the go-to drug for preventing these potentially deadly spasms, benefiting innumerable patients.

In 1984, Vanderbilt recruited Allen to become the first head of its new Department of Neurosurgery. Over the next 25 years, he turned it into a powerhouse of productivity and innovation — adding 13 full-time faculty members, creating five subspecialty groups and training 45 residents.

“There was only one George Allen,” says Reid Thompson ’89, a Johns Hopkins neurosurgery resident who succeeded Allen as head of Vanderbilt neurosurgery in 2010. “He was sharp, observant, creative and inventive. He was a tough taskmaster — with a heart of gold. His patients adored him, and he taught us — his faculty and residents — to treat patients as if they were family.”Neil A. Grauer