NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NINDS Mourns Former Chief of Neurosurgery Oldfield

Dr. Oldfield
Dr. Edward Oldfield

Dr. Edward Hudson Oldfield, former chief of the Surgical Neurology Branch (SNB) in the NINDS Division of Intramural Research, died on Sept. 1. He was 69 years old.

Oldfield was a highly creative neuroscientist and neurosurgeon who led research programs that changed the modern surgical treatment of people with pituitary tumors in Cushing’s disease, with brain and spinal cord tumors in von Hippel-Lindau disease and with spinal arteriovenous malformations.

“Dr. Oldfield was always an inspiration to me,” said Dr. John Heiss, SNB chair and residency program director. “Throughout his life, he successfully balanced neurosurgery, science, professional leadership, social relationships and family life and was a model for aspiring physician-scientists. He aided the research endeavors of scientific colleagues and mentored young neurosurgeons. His motivation to make significant scientific and medical advances never waned. I join his family, friends and colleagues in celebrating his life and mourning his death.”

Born in Mt. Sterling, Ky., Oldfield received his undergraduate education at the University of Kentucky as a physics major and after 3 years entered medical school in 1969. He earned his medical degree from Kentucky in 1973 and completed his general surgical residency training at Vanderbilt University Hospital in 1975. He then spent a year as a visiting registrar in neurology and neurosurgery at the National Hospital for Nervous Disease in Queen Square, London, before beginning neurosurgical residency training at Vanderbilt.

Prior to coming to NIH, he spent a year in private neurosurgical practice in Lexington, Ky.

Oldfield joined NIH in 1981 as a senior staff fellow in the SNB working on the cellular immunology of tumors. He became chief of the clinical neurosurgery section in 1984 and SNB chief in 1986. From 1987 to 2007, he also was on the faculty at Georgetown University Medical Center, serving as a clinical professor in the department of neurosurgery.

In 2007, Oldfield retired from full-time government service to become the Crutchfield chair in neurosurgery and a professor of neurosurgery and internal medicine at the University of Virginia. There he contributed to the department of neurosurgery research program and led a multidisciplinary effort in the treatment of pituitary tumors.

Dr. Oldfield in surgical scrubs
Dr. Edward Oldfield in one of NIH’s surgical suites

Even while at UVa., Oldfield continued to visit NIH periodically as a clinical collaborator—training and mentoring NIH neurosurgeons and neurosurgery residents. He fostered the career development of his fellows and other trainees, many of whom achieved tenured positions and chairmanships in neurosurgery departments in the U.S. and internationally.

Among his many research accomplishments, Oldfield developed a new drug-delivery technique—called convection-enhanced delivery—for treatment of central nervous system diseases, including brain tumors, Parkinson’s disease and lysosomal storage diseases. His laboratory developed gene therapy for malignant brain tumors and he directed the first clinical trial of gene therapy within the central nervous system. His research led to new insights into how Chiari l malformation (a structural defect in the base of the skull and cerebellum) caused syringomyelia, a finding that improved treatment of the condition. (Syringomyelia is a disorder in which a fluid-filled cyst forms within the spinal cord.)

Oldfield’s research on cerebral vasospasm (narrowing of the brain’s blood vessels that can cause stroke) after a ruptured brain aneurysm led to clinical trials of novel agents to treat it.

Throughout his career, he received numerous honors including a Public Health Superior Service Award for “successfully managing the SNB, training academic neurosurgeons and advancing the understanding of the biology of brain tumors” and the Grass Medal for Meritorious Research in Neurological Science from the Society of Neurological Surgeons.

Oldfield also received the Farber Award from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) for his brain tumor research, the Cushing Award for Technical Excellence and Innovation in Neurosurgery and AANS’s highest honor, named for the father of modern neurosurgery—the Harvey Cushing Medal—for his many years of outstanding leadership, dedication and contributions to neurosurgery.

UK’s Medical Alumni Association recognized Oldfield as “the quintessential clinical scientist” who made “remarkable contributions to the understanding of the nervous system and the practice of neurosurgery.”

Oldfield served on the editorial boards of neurosurgical journals, including co-chair of the Journal of Neurosurgery from 2001 to 2002 and associate editor from 2009. He served as vice-president and president of the Society of Neurological Surgeons. He authored more than 500 scientific and clinical articles and was co-inventor of patents on convection-enhanced drug delivery and genetic therapy.

“Ed’s contributions have advanced neuroscience and medicine in fundamental and critical ways,” said Dr. Russell Lonser, professor and chair of the department of neurological surgery at Ohio State University. “His legacy will endure through his family, the patients’ lives he improved, the important biologic discoveries he made and those fortunate enough to have trained and/or worked with him.”

Oldfield is survived by his wife Susan and his daughter Caroline. His family welcomed colleagues and trainees to their home, creating life-long friendships that extended beyond science and medicine.

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