Peter Jannetta Biography

Peter JannettaPeter J. Jannetta, MD—long-time inspirational leader of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurological Surgery—was a giant figure in the field of neurological surgery.

He was widely acclaimed for the development of microvascular decompression (MVD) in the 1960s, a novel procedure that moved blood vessels away from the trigeminal nerve, alleviating chronic pain and spasms in facial muscles. The procedure became universally known as the ‘Jannetta Procedure’ in the neurosurgical community and has since brought relief to thousands of patients worldwide.

PJ, as he was widely known by friends and colleagues, was admired and respected throughout the medical field, receiving numerous awards throughout his career. His patients knew him for his friendly bedside manner and his ability to communicate with his ‘old-school charm.’

Perhaps equally important as his scientific accomplishments, was his legacy of training future leaders in neurosurgery. During his tenure at the University of Pittsburgh, he trained 49 residents—including four future department chairmen—and was honored with an endowed professorship, appropriately named after Walter E. Dandy—considered one of the founding fathers of neurosurgery.

Dr. Jannetta also served as Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 1995-1996 under Governor Tom Ridge.

After leaving the university, Dr. Jannetta helped develop the Cranial Nerve Center at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh and continued to mentor young neurosurgeons well into his retirement.

Born in Philadelphia in 1932, Dr. Jannetta attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania before serving his neurosurgery residency at UCLA where he first devised the MVD procedure. He later served on the faculty at Louisiana State University before moving on to the University of Pittsburgh in 1971 as chief of the division of neurosurgery and then becoming the first chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery in 1973.

Among his many awards, Dr. Jannetta received the Herbert Olivecrona Award—often referred to as the "Nobel Prize of Neurosurgery," awarded annually by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute to a neurosurgeon or neuroscientist who has made an outstanding contribution to the neurosurgical field—in 1983. Dr. Jannetta was also honored with the establishment of an endowed chair in his name at the University of Pittsburgh in 1992. The chair is currently held by Paul A. Gardner, MD, co-director of the UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Center for Cranial Base Surgery.

Dr. Jannetta passed away in 2016 at the age of 84 from injuries suffered in a fall. In 2017, the Jannetta Symposium was held in his memory, a celebration of PJ's accomplishments that attracted prominent international figures in the field of neurosurgery. The Peter J. Jannetta Lectureship is now held annually at the University of Pittsburgh focusing on innovations in the field of neurosurgery.

(Watch video tribute to Dr. Jannetta below from Mark R. McLaughlin, MD, neurosurgeon at Princeton Brain & Spine and 1999 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh neurosurgery residency program, recorded at the inaugural Jannetta Symposium.)