Dunsker Award in Clinical Research
The Ellen and Stewart B. Dunsker, MD, Award for Clinical Research was established in 2007 to spur clinical research among neurosurgical residents in the department of neurosurgery.
The award, established by the retired Mayfield Clinic neurosurgeon and his wife, will provide a $2,000 prize each spring to a resident who has proposed and completed the most compelling clinical research project during the academic year.
The prize is awarded each year during graduation ceremonies, and all residents in UC’s Department of Neurosurgery are eligible.
“The intent is to support clinical studies,” said Dr. Dunsker, a professor emeritus who does not play a role in selecting the award recipients. “There’s a lot of emphasis on basic research in residency and medical school, but there’s a dearth of good clinical research nationally. It’s difficult and there’s no premium paid for it. Yet I think it’s absolutely critical to how you treat patients.”
Dr. Dunsker, who retired as professor of neurosurgery in 2002 after a 31-year career with the Mayfield Clinic, was renowned for his surgical and organization skills and for his humanity. He played a role in developing spinal surgery into a subspecialty of neurosurgery. He was named Ohio Neurosurgeon of the Year in 1992 and received the Harvey Cushing Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, in 2003. He remains a familiar figure at department meetings and grand rounds.
Clinical research can be tedious, Dr. Dunsker said. “To go to a hospital record room and read through 50 charts has got to be a most boring thing; it’s challenging to go through and tabulate information and then find a topic you’re interested in. But there are many areas that we address in medicine that we need answers from. I think this is a way to get started.”
He contrasted the current popularity and prestige of molecular research with the immediacy and relevance of clinical research.
“You can do anything you want in experiments and test tubes,” he said. “You can study molecular genetics, what happens to cancer cells in a test tube. But really what gets determined is whether 30 million women with cancer of the breast are going to live. And in fact what we’ve seen is that cancer is a treatable disease almost like diabetes. The number of patients walking around with cancer is phenomenal. And this comes from treating patients, from analyzing what happens with patients.”
Dr. Dunsker added that measuring things, and writing down observations, leads to improvement of clinical outcomes.
An observation about a single case, written up as a case report, can propel further study and improved care, he said.
He recalled one of his own cases involving a frail, elderly, overweight woman with an odontoid fracture. “She had broken her neck,” he said. “Her neck hadn’t healed and she was in terrible pain. I treated her with calcitonin, a hormone that plays a role in the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. I wasn’t aware that calcitonin had been studied, but I knew that fractures in lab animals and in other parts of the body had been treated with calcitonin.
"Four weeks later, her neck pain had disappeared. I had a subsequent patient whom I also treated this way. I submitted a paper to the Journal of Neurosurgery about the two cases, and it was refused. I called the editor to argue that this was an observation that needed to be followed up.
“Well, right about that time, a frail, elderly patient with a broken neck came to the clinic of this surgeon-editor. One of his colleagues wanted to operate. But he paused. ‘No,’ he said, ‘there’s a paper on my desk.’ Don’t you know, my paper got published."