Genesis of the use of corticosteroids in the treatment and prevention of brain edema

Shearwood McClelland, Donlin M. Long

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Since the groundbreaking article from the University of Minnesota in 1961 by Drs. Galicich, French, and Melby describing the use of dexamethasone for peritumoral cerebral edema, the use of corticosteroids in patients with brain tumors has become routine. Unfortunately, little has been reported regarding the environment that fostered arguably the greatest translational research contribution in the history of neurosurgery. METHODS: During a pilot study to assess corticosteroid uptake in brain tumors, Dr. Galicich observed that patients given a large dose of corticosteroids just before craniotomy had a relatively benign postoperative course. This led, in October 1959, to the administration of high-dose corticosteroids to a patient with a large recurrent glioblastoma who was semicomatose and severely hemiparetic. The results were dramatic, with almost complete resolution of neurological deficit during a period of several days and marked reduction of midline shift on repeat angiograms. This finding prompted the studies that confirmed the efficacy of high-dose corticosteroids in reducing peritumoral brain edema in humans reported in the 1961 article. RESULTS: After publication, a revolution in brain tumor management occurred because corticosteroid therapy markedly reduced the morbidity and mortality associated with brain tumors both in the United States and worldwide. CONCLUSION: The combination of astute clinical observation and follow up by rigorous clinical research at the University of Minnesota resulted in one of the greatest contributions in the history of neurosurgery, rivaled only by the operative microscope in its effect on morbidity, and unsurpassed in reduction of mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)965-967
Number of pages3
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2008


  • Brain edema
  • Brain tumors
  • Dexamethasone
  • Joseph H. Galicich
  • Lyle A. French
  • University of Minnesota

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology

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