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Neurosurgical Oncology

The University of Pittsburgh’s Neurosurgical Oncology Program includes leading neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists, radiation oncologists, neuropathologists, researchers, rehabilitation experts, nurses and support staff. This multidisciplinary team delivers compassionate and sophisticated care and uses the latest technologies to treat patients with tumors of the brain, spine and skull base. Education, support and counseling for family members are important parts of the program.

The Neurosurgical Oncology Center features two clinical divisions: the Adult Neurosurgical Oncology Program and the Pediatric Neurosurgical Oncology Program. Both operate under the auspices of the comprehensive Brain Tumor Program, centered at the Hillman Cancer Center of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI). The Brain Tumor Program supports clinical trials and basic science research for patients with brain tumors and is led by Ian Pollack, MD.

The Adult Neurosurgical Oncology Center, led by Nduka Amankulor, MD, (director) and Pascal Zinn, MD, PhD, (associate director), is dedicated to providing the best treatment available for patients with both benign and malignant tumors of the brain and spine. The center is also dedicated to discovering novel and effective therapies for these diseases and is a leading center for surgically-driven clinical trials and translational bench-to-bedside trials based on scientific breakthroughs developed in our laboratories.

The Neurosurgical Oncology Center is one of the most robust and innovative in the world, with one of the largest volumes of patients treated on an annual basis. The center  has been a leader in the implementation of cutting-edge technologies such as stereotactic radiosurgery using the Gamma Knife, CyberKnife, and image-guided tumor resection using intraoperative CT and MRI. Other technologies, including minimally invasive techniques for tumor removal using intracranial endoscopic port surgery (NeuroendoportSM) and endoscopic endonasal approaches to the skull base have been pioneered at this center. The use of advanced imaging modalities, such as high definition white matter fiber tract imaging and magnetoencephalography, has also facilitated better outcomes for selected patients with tumors. In addition, awake craniotomy techniques with brain mapping, and fluorescent-guided brain tumor resection are routinely used to maximize safe removal of brain tumors at the cancer center.

As an international referral center for both adult and pediatric brain tumors, the center ranks among the top neuro-oncolgy programs in the nation. Faculty members provide consultation and guidance for local, national and international referrals. Patients with both primary brain and spine tumors and metastatic tumors are seen in the Hillman Cancer Center multidisciplinary clinics that include representation from neurosurgery, medical neuro-oncology and radiation oncology. A weekly multidisciplinary neuro-oncology tumor board is a forum for a team of specialists to review patient problems and to formulate management recommendations. The tumor board draws from the expertise of the neurosurgery, neurology, radiology, pathology and radiation oncology faculty at UPMC. Similarly, there is a weekly skull base tumor board with involvement from otolaryngology/head and neck cancer specialists, neuro-ophthalmology, radiology, and adult and pediatric neurosurgery.

Our team is also actively studying other neurological complications of systemic cancer and its treatment, including stroke, neurobehavioral disorders, neurological complications of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, and paraneoplastic neurological syndromes, in collaboration with medical neuro-oncologists Frank Lieberman, MD, and Jan Drappatz, MD, and Megan Mantica, MD.

The University of Pittsburgh is a member of the American Brain Tumor Consortium, which conducts clinical trials to evaluate novel chemotherapy and molecular treatments for adults with malignant primary brain tumors. In addition to membership in this group, the site is one of the few in the country that is also a member of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium and the Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network, highlighting the breadth of the neuro-oncology expertise across the age spectrum. The University of Pittsburgh serves as the coordinating center for the North American Gamma Knife Consortium, which links 18 academic centers of excellence in radiosurgery. Moreover, investigators have been at the forefront of development of innovative biological therapeutic approaches for patients with brain tumors, such as immunotherapy using brain tumor vaccines and radiosurgery coupled with bevacizumab.

The Spine Oncology Radiosurgery Program, led by Peter C. Gerszten, MD, MPH, is the most experienced center in the world in using radiosurgery to treat a wide variety of both malignant and benign spinal and paraspinal tumors. This highly effective therapy is both safe and painless, and avoids many of the risks associated with open surgery.