MacArthur Fellows Program

Benjamin Warf

Pediatric Neurosurgeon | Class of 2012

Revolutionizing treatment of hydrocephalus and other intra-cranial diseases in very young children and advancing standards of and access to health care in both the developed and poorest regions of the world.

Title
Pediatric Neurosurgeon
Affiliation
Boston Children's Hospital
Location
Boston, Massachusetts
Age
54 at time of award

Benjamin Warf is a pediatric neurosurgeon who has revolutionized the treatment of intra-cranial diseases in very young children, with a particular focus on hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”). Many children with untreated hydrocephalus do not survive or suffer significant cognitive disabilities; such outcomes are common in parts of the world where access to neurosurgery is scarce. In 2000, Warf became medical director and chief of surgery at the newly established CURE Children’s Hospital in a remote town in eastern Uganda, where he encountered a high incidence of hydrocephalus. Because traditional treatment of hydrocephalus—insertion of shunts—is both prohibitively expensive and requires sustained medical monitoring beyond the reach of most children in the developing world, Warf pioneered an alternative, low-cost treatment. In carefully designed clinical trials, he demonstrated that a relatively straightforward, one-time treatment using modern endoscopic techniques (based on a surgical approach first attempted in the early twentieth century) results in outcomes that are at least as safe and effective as ventricular shunts, but requires far less medical infrastructure and post-surgical maintenance. As an adjunct to his clinical practice, Warf designed a training program and network for neurosurgeons throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, increasing exponentially the number of children who can now be treated using his method. Having returned to practicing pediatric neurosurgery in the United States, he is now working to expand worldwide knowledge of and access to his hydrocephalus treatment, as well as for other pediatric neurosurgical diseases. Through his research, practice, teaching, and organizing activities, Warf is demonstrating that standards of health care can be improved alongside access to that care, in both the developing and the developed world.

Benjamin Warf received a B.S. (1980) from Georgetown College and an M.D. (1984) from Harvard Medical School. He completed his residency (1985–1991) in neurosurgery at Case Western Reserve University. From 2000 to 2006, he served as medical director and chief of surgery at CURE Children’s Hospital of Uganda, and in 2010 he joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School, where he is currently an associate professor of surgery and director of the Neonatal and Congenital Anomaly Neurosurgery Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. His prior affiliations include the University of Kentucky (1992–2000) and Thomas Jefferson University (2007–2009).

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Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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