Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Propels Neurosurgery Research

By Kate Anastas
Thursday, May 7, 2020

Through pointed research efforts that aim to improve patient outcomes and quality of life, the Department of Neurosurgery at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center provides central Pennsylvania and surrounding counties with leading-edge surgical treatments for a variety of neurological conditions.

In the field of neurosurgery, research is critical for a better understanding of certain conditions and to give patients access to innovative treatments. The Department of Neurosurgery at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is devoted to both basic and clinical science research for improved patient care.

Shaping the Future of Neurosurgery

The Neurosurgery Department at Hershey Medical Center is one of the top-ranked neurosurgery departments nationally for receiving National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. With NIH-funded grants, four Hershey Medical Center laboratories run by individual investigators were able to continue with clinical research within the following fields:

  • Hydrocephalus prediction and prevention in East Africa — As a joint effort between the Department of Neurosurgery and the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Steven Schiff, MD, PhD, leads nationally awarded work for preventing infectious diseases that cause hydrocephalus in children.
  • Neurodegenerative disease and brain tumor treatment — James Connor, MS, PhD, leading expert on the effects of brain iron metabolism on several conditions, directs a laboratory that discovers novel treatments for tumors and neurodegenerative diseases. Two spinoff companies were developed based on research from Connor’s lab.
  • Treatment for stroke and brain trauma patients — Guohong Li, MD, PhD, has received NIH funding for several studies, some of which include therapeutic targeting of class IB PI3-kinase gamma to treat acute ischemic stroke and the role of CD147 in ischemic inflammation and brain injury.
  • Protein structure changes that lead to a disease state — Trained in both biomedical engineering and neuroscience, the laboratory of Elizabeth Proctor, PhD, looks at neurodegenerative disease at molecular, cellular, tissue and physiological levels, with the goal of providing strategies for early diagnoses and preventive care.

Currently, a combined total of external funding for the Department of Neurosurgery’s laboratories reached $9 million. The department continues to advance in studies of brain, nerve and spine conditions with more than 60 registries in clinical trials for a range of disorders.

“If there is no treatment available, we are looking to change that in the future,” says Robert Harbaugh, MD, FACS, FAHA, Neurosurgery Department chair at Hershey Medical Center. “It’s rewarding to watch our clinicians interact with both patients and investigators to identify a problem, and then work to develop a solution.”

Dr. Harbaugh explains that neurosurgery residents take part as well.

“With one of the largest neurosurgery residency programs in the country, we provide opportunities for residents to participate alongside our faculty in their research efforts,” Dr. Harbaugh says. “We are ensuring that future patients will be taken care of thanks to continued research efforts.”

“We are proud to have a research-intensive department. With our dedication to research efforts, training new residents and outstanding patient care, we will continue to move the field of neurosurgery forward.”
— Robert Harbaugh, MD, FACS, FAHA, Neurosurgery Department chair at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

To find out more about neurosurgery research at Penn State Health, call 717-531-4541 or visit