When Douglas Kondziolka came to the University of Pittsburgh as a master's student in 1989, its Gamma Knife program in neurosurgery was only 2 years old.
Today, at the 25-year mark, Pitt has performed more than 11,000 Gamma Knife procedures, which use focused beams of radiation to treat tumors and other brain maladies. Dr. Kondziolka has done more than 5,000 of those procedures himself, and he will build on that deep experience when he moves to New York University in November.
Dr. Kondziolka, 51, who has been the Peter J. Jannetta professor of neurological surgery and radiation oncology here, will become the vice chair of clinical research at the NYU Langone Medical Center's neurosurgery department, as well as head of its Center for Advanced Radiosurgery.
He said there were no negative circumstances behind the move. Dr. Kondziolka, who got his medical degree at the University of Toronto, said "Pitt and UPMC were built on innovation and creative thinking, which is what I wanted my career to be based on. At the same time, this was a tremendous place to raise a family. I also have served as neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Penguins medical staff since 2002, which - as a Canadian - has been a tremendous honor."
Robert Friedlander, chief of neurosurgery at Pitt, said the university will not need to recruit someone to fill Dr. Kondziolka's shoes because it has hired top neurosurgeons in recent years who can maintain the program's momentum.
"He'll definitely be missed," Dr. Friedlander said. "And even though we have replacements, he's not replaceable."
With the leadership of his mentor, L. Dade Lunsford, Dr. Kondziolka helped establish Pitt as a leading Gamma Knife facility, pioneering the use of radiation to treat brain problems without making an incision in the skull.
In an interview, Dr. Kondziolka recalled that when he joined the neurosurgery program in the early 1990s, many doctors believed radiation should not be used on metastatic tumors in the brain - those that had spread from an original tumor elsewhere - because it could never wipe out of all of the possible lesions.
But the Pitt team was able to show that even if it only treated a fraction of the larger tumors, it could significantly extend the lifespan of patients, he said.
Pitt also pioneered use of the Gamma Knife for the painful facial nerve malady known as trigeminal neuralgia. By focusing radiation on the nerve as it entered the brainstem, Pitt doctors were able to lessen the pain without making the face go numb.
Within three years of publishing a study on that success, more than 10,000 patients around the world had received the procedure, he said.
Dr. Kondziolka also has pioneered experiments in using stem cells to try to heal stroke damage in the brain, including a trial now under way in conjunction with Stanford University, and led the way in Pittsburgh in doing deep brain stimulation surgery, in which electrodes are inserted into the brain to counteract the tremors of Parkinson's disease as well as the symptoms of such mental illnesses as severe depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In moving to New York, he said, he hopes to expand all those treatments at NYU Langone, as well as set up clinical trials of new treatments.
"NYU has a great group in surgery, imaging and brain tumors," he said, "and my task will be to shepherd the department's clinical research."
Mark Roth: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1130.