Our Timeline

For 80 years, we’ve been a destination for patients seeking the most advanced treatments. Our patients are the reason we strive to deliver hope every day and in the years to come.
We Believe

For 80 years, we’ve been a destination for patients seeking the most advanced treatments. Our patients are the reason we strive to deliver hope every day and in the years to come.


The brain tumor program at Duke is founded by Barnes Woodhall, MD, as one of the first brain tumor research and clinical programs in the United States. In the 1950s Woodhall becomes one of the first physicians to use chemotherapy on brain tumors and in 1960, he goes on to become the second dean of Duke University School of Medicine.





Guy Odom, MD, joins Duke and establishes its first neuropathology tumor laboratory as well as the brain tumor clinic, one of the oldest multidisciplinary cancer clinics at Duke. 






Darell Bigner, MD, PhD, arrives at Duke as a medical student. He will remain at Duke for the next 54 years, except for two years at the National Institutes of Health and a year as a postdoctoral fellow in Germany. Bigner holds the Edwin L. Jones, Jr. and Lucille Finch Jones Cancer Research Professorship. He serves as director of the center and is considered one of the leading authorities on brain tumors in the world.


A journal article reports on the more than 300 cases of intracranial metastases and their neurosurgical treatment at Duke from 1938 to 1962. Half of these patients receive neurosurgical treatment; about one-fifth of them live at least a year and 5 percent live 10 years, proving that surgery on single lesions has significant effect.

Late 1960s, early 1970s

Steve Mahaley, MD, PhD, a second-generation investigator at The Brain Tumor Center, is one of the first researchers to study immunological characteristics of human gliomas; he also studies relationships between chemotherapy and immunology of brain tumors.


North Carolina sees a remarkable rise in the practice of neurosurgery. In 1937, Woodhall is the only neurosurgeon in North Carolina; by 1971, there are 32.


The Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center is formed. Bigner and Mahaley are listed as "key investigators."


Allan Friedman, MD, joins Duke. He serves as chief of the Division of Neurosurgery and holds the Guy L. Odom Professorship of Neurosurgery, established in 2001 by the former neurosurgery trainees of Woodhall and Odom.


Bigner, with Woodhall’s support, designs and obtains a construction grant for the Cancer Center Isolation Facility, which allows investigators to work in isolated laboratories when doing research that requires biosafety II, III, and IV containment.


Henry Friedman, MD, joins Duke as a senior research fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology. He is now deputy director of The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center and holds the James B. Powell Jr. Professorship of Neuro-Oncology.



Bigner, Friedman, and S. Clifford Schold Jr., MD, find a way to implant human brain tumor cells in mice genetically engineered to have inhibited immune systems. Their goal is to treat human brain tumors in mice with different drugs to find one suitable for each individual patient, thus sparing patients the stress and negative side effects of ineffective drugs.


Roger McLendon, MD, comes to Duke as a resident. He is now chief of Neuropathology and Surgical Pathology; director, Anatomic Pathology Services; and, director of The Brain Tumor Center Tissue Bank.


Herbert Fuchs, MD, PhD, arrives at Duke as a medical student. He serves as Division Chief, Pediatric Neurosurgery.


The Peter Preuss Foundation makes a major contribution to support brain research by establishing the Preuss Laboratory for Brain Tumor Research, with Bigner as director and Drs. Henry Friedman and Allan Friedman as associate directors.


Pediatric neuro-oncology becomes a recognized program with the Duke Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, and The Brain Tumor Family Support Program at Duke is founded. 

Dr. Jim and Anne Powell establish the James B. Powell, Jr. Professorship in memory of their son. This professorship is held by Henry Friedman.


The Duke Brain Tumor Program establishes a board of advisors.







The Duke Forest 5K (now Angels Among Us) is organized by Cary and Kate Harrison, Terry Rose, and other volunteers to raise funds for brain tumor research. The first event raises $27,000 for brain cancer research at Duke.





A vaccine developed by Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers shows promise in mice by treating brain tumors that had been thought “off limits” for the immune system. 

Drug studies begun in baker’s yeast cells give rise to a new therapy for brain tumors at Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, with the hope of turning promising laboratory findings into an effective new drug. 

Hopebuilders 5K fundraising run is organized by William and Gigi Harris and Marc and Mattye Silverman. Their efforts establish the Margaret Harris and David Silverman Professorship of Neuro-oncology Research, currently held by Francis Ali-Osman, DSc.


Pediatric and adult neuro-oncology clinical services are merged into a multidepartmental joint program forming The Brain Tumor Center at Duke. 

Duke cancer and biochemistry specialists find that glioblastoma multiforme tumors that had become resistant to chemotherapeutic agents showed defects in the cellular mismatch repair system, a key factor in quelling cancer cells. 

Jim and Mary Helen Dalton, members of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Board of Overseers, pledge $1.25 million to support brain tumor research. 

A gift from the Tim & Tom Gullikson Foundation ensures the continued development of the family support program and services.


In initial clinical trials, Duke researchers Bigner and Michael Zalutsky, PhD, significantly extend the survival of patients suffering the most malignant brain cancers by injecting antibodies directly into the cancerous region. The antibodies carry cancer-killing radioactive iodine-131 to the tumor cells.


Sri Gururangan, MRCP (UK), joins Duke to direct the pediatric neuro-oncology clinical activities. 

David Cory Adamson, MD, PhD, arrives at Duke as a neurosurgery resident and joins the faculty in 2005. Adamson directs the Molecular Neuro-Oncology Laboratory and is head of the Neuro-Surgery Service at the Durham VA Hospital.


Jimmy Matthews, member of the Duke Brain Tumor Program Board of Advisors, establishes the Joyce Carroll Matthews Brain Tumor Research Endowment Fund in memory of his mother and donates over $1 million for brain tumor research at Duke. 

In the first study of its kind, Duke researchers use standardized methods to identify neurologic and psychiatric problems in adult brain tumor patients shortly after diagnosis, exploring specific issues affecting patients’ quality of life.


The Rory David Deutsch Foundation establishes the Rory David Deutsch Memorial Brain Tumor Research Endowment Fund for pediatric brain tumor research with a pledge of $2 million. The foundation makes another $1 million commitment in 2010. 

Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure is founded by the Case family in memory of Dan Case. The family pledges $5 million to The Brain Tumor Center at Duke. 

In an early-phase clinical trial, patients with cancerous brain tumors become the first to be treated with an intriguing new class of drugs called “immunotoxins” – part tumor-recognizing protein, part bacterial toxin. 

The Guy L Odom Professorship of Neurosurgery is established and is currently held by Allan Friedman.


A 40-minute profile of patients and doctors of The Brain Tumor Center airs nationally on the CBS program 60 Minutes. 

The National Cancer Institute awards the Center a brain cancer SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) planning grant with Bigner as principal investigator. 

Ruth and Gerhard Cless establish the Bryan Cless Brain Tumor Research Fund and donate over $6 million to support brain tumor research at Duke.

A $6 million award from the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation establishes the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation Institute at Duke devoted exclusively to pediatric brain tumor research. A second gift of $6 million is awarded in 2008.

The Jonathan Spicehandler Invitational Golf Tournament is organized and leads to the establishment of the Jonathan Spicehandler, MD, Professorship of Neuro-Oncology Research, currently held by Zalutsky. 

Oscar Ellis and Anne Colville donate $1 million and establish the Oscar W. Ellis and Anne Colville Brain Tumor Research Fund. 

Park B. Smith establishes the Carol R. Smith Faculty Research Endowment Fund with a gift of $1 million.


In a daring yet successful experiment, Matthias Gromeier, MD, and his team combine the cancer-killing properties of poliovirus with a harmless genetic coding element from the common cold. The modified virus creates a remarkably strong anti-cancer agent, rapidly killing cancer cells in laboratory cell cultures and in animals without causing polio.


A gift from the Tug McGraw Foundation establishes The Tug McGraw Center for Neuro-oncology Quality of Life Research at The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. 

The center is awarded one of the nation’s four fully funded SPORE awards in brain cancer from the National Cancer Institute, a total of $12 million over 5 years.


The Preston Robert Tisch family of New York donates $10 million to support cancer research at the Duke Brain Tumor Center, which is renamed in recognition of the gift. 

Robert Teabeaut II, MD, leaves an estate gift of over $2.2 million to support brain tumor research. 

Annick Desjardins, MD, completes a two-year fellowship at the brain tumor center before joining Henry Friedman as a faculty member on the adult clinical care team in 2005.


An anonymous donor gives $5 million to Duke to establish two endowed research funds, one named for Allan Friedman and one for Henry Friedman. 

Stan and Melinda Epperson, members of the Duke Brain Tumor Program Board of Advisors, pledge $1 million, in memory of their son, to establish the Jeffery Thomas Epperson Memorial Endowment Fund. 

Bigner receives a Doctor of Medicine (honoris causa) degree from the University of Lund, Sweden. 


Allan Friedman receives international attention for performing surgery on Senator Ted Kennedy and newspaper columnist Robert Novak, each of whom had a brain tumor. 

Bigner receives the Zuelch Prize, Germany’s most prestigious award for basic neurological research. 

John Sampson, MD, PhD, shows that a vaccine aimed at inducing immunity to glioblastoma multiforme has more than doubled the survival time in patients.

Chay Kuo, MD, PhD, wins three major awards for his research in brain tumors: Director’s New Innovator Award of $1.5 million from the National Institutes of Health; Distinguished Scientist Award from the Sontag Foundation for $600,000; and Packard Fellow in Science and Engineering Award from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for $875,000. 

Duane Mitchell, MD, PhD, finds that by using a vaccine to target a common herpes virus found in up to 80 percent of Americans, doctors may be able to extend the lives of patients diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme.


The FDA approves the drug Avastin for recurrent glioblastomas thanks largely to Henry Friedman’s efforts to get approval from the drug maker. James Vredenburgh, MD, and Friedman discover that the drug – already approved for other cancers – would be effective in fighting glioblastomas. This is the first new drug approved for glioblastomas in more than a decade. 

Hai Yan, MD, PhD, and a team of Duke researchers make an exciting discovery of mutations in two genes that could become therapeutic targets in malignant gliomas. The research is published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

Bigner and Yan are part of a group of five researchers who win the National Brain Tumor Society’s first “Founders Award for Research Excellence” for groundbreaking work in the major collective advancement in the genomic analysis of gliomas.

Katherine Peters, MD, PhD, completed a fellowship in 2009 at the brain tumor center before joining Henry Friedman and the adult clinical care team. She also serves as Director of the Neuro-oncology Fellowship Program.


Oren Becher, MD, is recruited, with financial assistance from the Rory David Deutsch Foundation, to study central nervous system tumors and new glioma treatment regimens in children. 

Sampson and his experimental vaccine research continue to bring national and international exposure. Preliminary findings from the clinical studies show the use of the vaccine prolongs life.

Yiping He, PhD, arrives at Duke to work with Bigner and Yan to expand Duke’s genomic program, focusing on brain tumor genetics, tumor biology and biomarker studies.


A discovery by scientists at Duke and Johns Hopkins University could increase the chances for an effective combination of drug therapy to treat the second-most common type of brain tumor. 

Duke researchers find a “fountain of youth” that sustains the production of new neurons in the brains of rodents. This is believed to be present in the human brain as well. Kuo is senior author of the study.

Scientists at Duke discover that genetic mutations found in brain tumors can alter tumor metabolism. Yan led a collaborative group of researchers to conduct the study, including He and Bigner. 

Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure and The V Foundation announce a $1 million research grant to Yan to further develop novel approaches to target gliomas. 

Carrie Muh, MD, is recruited to join the pediatric neurosurgical team.


Brain tumor patients now are seen in the new Duke Cancer Center building, the first building at Duke dedicated solely to the care of patients with cancer.

On April 28, Angels Among Us raises $1,802,475. The efforts of hundreds of volunteers, patients and families will help raise a total of more than $12 million by 2012. Angels Among Us will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2013.

Bigner receives a five-year and more than $14 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. He and co-investigators Sampson and Zalutsky received a perfect score upon peer review of their grant. Such an outstanding score represents independent external validation of the excellence of clinical research at The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. 

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center and to honor the scientific contributions and commitment of Bigner, director of the center, the Darell D. Bigner, MD, PhD Young Investigators Award is established to recognize the outstanding achievements of a physician scientist dedicated to finding a cure for brain tumors.  The first award, presented in 2012, is awarded to Yan.

Gordana Vlahovic, MD, joins Henry Friedman and the adult clinical care team. Prior to joining the center, she was a member of the Duke medical oncology faculty since 2003.


Doctors at Duke go to radical lengths to save the life of a then 20‐year‐old college student from South Carolina, stricken with one of the most aggressive forms of brain tumors. Gromeier and Desjardins suggest something radical; killing her cancer cells with the poliovirus. Gromeier discovered in 1998 that the virus can attack other cancer cells, but had to research and test the theory for the last decade. Stephanie Lipscomb’s brain responds to the engineered poliovirus.

Research led by Yan and collaborators at Johns Hopkins and other institutions find newly identified mutations in a gene that makes cells immortal appear to play a pivotal role in three of the most common types of brain tumors, as well as cancers of the liver, tongue and urinary tract, according to research led by Duke Cancer Institute. 

He wins the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCC) Foundation Young Investigator Awards Grant for his proposed research “Genetic approaches for analyzing the role of aberrant MLL2 in tumorigenesis.”

In April, 2013, Angels Among Us celebrates 20 years and raises $2,015,618 with the help of over 365 teams from across the country. 

Christopher and Bronwen Gleeson establish the Christopher and Bronwen Gleeson Family Brain Tumor Research Fund with a gift of $1 million.

In honor of the scientific contributions and commitment of Bigner, director of The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke, the Darell D. Bigner, MD, PhD Young Investigators Award was established to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the center and recognize the outstanding achievements of a physician scientist dedicated to finding a cure for brain tumors. The first award, presented in 2012, was awarded to Yan, and the 2013 award is given to Bryan Choi, MD, PhD.

Duke University Hospital opens the new Duke Medicine Pavilion, a major expansion of Duke University Hospital addressing patient needs and the increasing demand for Duke Medical services and priority programs.


The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) awards the Eighth Annual AACR Team Science Award to the Duke University/Johns Hopkins University/National Cancer Institute (NCI) Malignant Brain Tumor Team at the 2014 AACR Annual Meeting. The AACR Team Science Award recognizes an outstanding interdisciplinary research team for its innovative and meritorious scientific work that has advanced or will likely advance cancer research, detection, diagnosis, prevention or treatment.

Yan is awarded the distinguished Henry S. Friedman Professor of Neuro-oncology. This professorship recognizes Yan’s scientific accomplishments  at Duke which have centered‐around uncovering major genetic alterations occurring in glioma, including IDH1 and IDH2. Yan's work has gone even farther in determining the unique biology driving tumors to develop in the brain.

Bigner is selected as the recipient of the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Neuro‐Oncology. Dr. Bigner also receives the Feldman Founder’s Award for his decades of outstanding contributions and invaluable impact on the field of brain tumor research.

In honor of his outstanding scientific contributions, Gromeier is presented with the 2014 Darell D. Bigner, MD, PhD, Young Investigators Award.


The 2014 Shingleton Award is given to Ruth and Gary Cless for their philanthropy and dedication to The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.

Sampson is appointed chief of the Division of Neurosurgery, on April 1,  2014. Sampson joined the division in 1998.

On April 26, 2014, Angels Among Us celebrates 21 years with a record of $2,100,000 raised with the help of over 365 teams from across the country.

Dr. Henry Friedman receives Duke’s Distinguished Faculty Award.  

The Isaac and Florence Chera Foundation establishes The Stanley Chera and Family Brain Tumor Research Fund with a gift of $2.5 million. 

Peter Fecci, MD, PhD,  joins the Duke neuro-surgery team and will also serve as Director of the Brain Tumor Immunotherapy program.

Eric Thompson, MD, works with the Duke Pediatric Neuro-surgery team to help take care of Duke’s pediatric brain tumor patients. 

Dina Randazzo, DO, joins the clinical team of Henry Friedman, Peters, Desjardins, and Vlahovic.


The National Cancer Institute honors Bigner with the Outstanding Investigator Award (OIA). The OIA is a generous 7-year, approximate $7 million grant.

The CBS show 60 Minutes airs “Killing Cancer” on March 29, 2015, introducing the Duke University polio vaccine being used to eradicate  glioblastomas,  which  involves injecting a genetically modified polio virus directly into a brain tumor. The virus latches onto cancer cells and activates the body's immune system to  attack the tumor.

Mr. and Mrs. Cliff Asness establish the Asness Family Brain Tumor Research Fund to honor the life of his father, Barry Asness.

On April 25, 2015, Angels Among Us celebrates 22 years of raising funds for brain tumor research at The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. The event raises over $2,044,000 with the help of more than 316 teams from across the country. 

Susan Boulton, RN, assistant research practice manager, Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, receives the Lifetime Achievement Award for her “dedication to work with great tenacity.”

The 2015 Shingleton Award is received by the Mindy and Ross Deutsch and Ellyn and Alan Samsky families. The Deutsch and Samsky families raised $3.5 million to establish the Rory David Deutsch Scholar and the Rory David Deutsch Professorship.


Invoking the aspirational spirit that put U.S. astronauts on the moon, Vice President Joe Biden visited Duke as part of the national “moonshot” initiative he is leading to advance cancer research.  The vice president met with John Sampson, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and Matthias Gromeier, MD of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, whose work has focused on using a modified form of the poliovirus as an innovative brain cancer therapy.

The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke is featured on 60 Minutes. A year ago, the news magazine introduced viewers to the  amazing work of the team behind the poliovirus therapy. The 2016 double segment reports several updates, including the news that the FDA granted breakthrough status to the treatment.

The Kathy McCune Oncolytic Immunotherapy Laboratory is established with an estate gift from the family of Kathy McCune. 

On April 23, 2016, Angels Among Us celebrates 23 years by raising over $1.8 million with the help of more than 330 teams from across the country.

Gerhard and Ruth Cless establish the Cless Family Neuro‐oncology Professorship.

The Shingleton Award is received by Stan and Melinda Epperson for their philanthropy, dedication and commitment to The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.

 Jean Hartford-Todd receives Presidential Award. It is one of the highest honors given to Duke University faculty and staff. The awards program recognizes full‐time employees who have excelled in their positions, having made exceptional contributions to the university and health system during the previous calendar year.


David Ashley, MBBS, FRACP, PhD, becomes director of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology for Duke’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center (PRTBTC).

On April 29, 2017, Angels Among Us celebrates 24 years by raising over $2.1 million with the help of more than 330 teams from across the country.

Duke University’s John H. Sampson, MD, PhD, has been named to the National Academy of Medicine. Sampson is the Robert H. and Gloria Wilkins Distinguished Professor of Neurosurgery and chair of the Duke Department of Neurosurgery. 

2017 marks the 80th anniversary of Duke’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center (PRTBTC). The modest beginnings of the PRTBTC came to fruition in 1937, when Barnes Woodhall, MD, founded the brain tumor program at Duke as one of the first brain tumor research and clinical programs in the United States. Several leading scientific mavericks would then join the program, including Guy Odom, MD, Darell Bigner, MD, PhD, Allan Friedman, MD, Henry Friedman, MD, and John Sampson, MD, PhD. These top figures in brain tumor research helped build the center from the ground up, taking an interdisciplinary approach to cancer treatment while maintaining the creed that “at Duke, there is hope.”


David Ashley, MBBS, FRACP, PhD, becomes director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. Ashley  previously served as chair of medicine and director of the Andrew Love Cancer Center at Deakin University in Australia.   

John Sampson, MD, PhD, is elected to the Association of American Physicians, an honor given to those who have attained excellence in the pursuit of medical knowledge and its application to clinical medicine to improve health.

On April 28, 2018, Angels Among Us celebrates 25 years and raises over $2.3 million for brain tumor research at The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. The event raises over 24 million in its 25 year history.  The staff celebrates the 25th anniversary with a flash mob dance in honor of their patients.

Hai Yan, MD, PhD, Bill Diplas, MD, PhD candidate and colleagues in the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center publish their findings May 25 in the journal Nature Communications.  Most glioblastoma tumors are marked by one or two broad mutation patterns, but about 20 percent of the lethal brain tumors have biomarkers that cannot be identified. Now scientists identify mutations for the vast majority of the remaining 20 percent of uncharacterized tumors, which tend to be especially lethal. The findings indicate that these mutations involve a previously unknown disruption of the cell’s normal mortality that is governed by components called telomeres.

Peter E. Fecci, MD, PhD, is appointed associate deputy director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center.

A genetically modified poliovirus therapy developed at The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center shows significantly improved long-term survival for patients with recurrent glioblastoma, with a three-year survival rate of 21 percent in a phase 1 clinical trial. Results are presented June 26 at the 22nd International Conference on Brain Tumor Research and Therapy in Norway and simultaneously published in The New England Journal of Medicine.