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Harvey Cushing (1869-1939)

Harvey Cushing, an American physician, made it his life's work to perform surgery on the brain and to influence other surgeons to establish the practice of neurosurgery as a speciality. He also made a careful study of the pituitary gland and identified Cushing's disease in 1912, which was caused by a malfunction in the pituitary gland.

The human brain makes up about 2% of the average weight of an adult, yet it is the control centre for the entire body. Despite its importance, it is probably the least understood of the major organs. Cushing used careful observation to diagnose tumours of the brain and by 1908 had perfected a technique to remove benign brain tumours while observing reactions in a patient's eyes. He was very careful with the brain, and would gently remove a piece of bone from the skull to gain access. This was in stark contrast to some other surgeons who would almost smash the skull like a boiled egg in order to reach the brain.

In addition to being a meticulous surgeon, Cushing also passed on his knowledge to other young surgeons who adopted his careful techniques, permanently establishing his position as one of the most influential neurosurgeons in history.

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Bibliography

W F Bynum and H Bynum, Dictionary of Medical Biography (London: Greenwood Press, 2007)

E R Laws, `Neurosurgery's Man of the Century: Harvey Cushing-The Man and His Legacy', Neurosurgery, 45/5 (November 1999), pp 977-982

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