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World's First Successful Brain Tumour Operation

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World's First Successful Brain Tumour Operation

In 1879, a young girl by the name of Barbara Watson came under the care of Glasgow surgeon, William Macewen. She presented with a large lump over her left eye and was suffering from recurring seizures. Macewen had a good knowledge of neuroanatomy and was up to date on the current research into cerebral localisation. He decided to put theories to the test and operate on Miss Watson. 

Upon Macewen's first incision, he found the lump over Barbara's eye to be a tumour. Macewen then discovered that the tumour passed all the way into the cranial cavity, resulting in her seizures. 

Within our archive collection are Macewen's case notes on patients he had from 1876-1879. The above entry shows his notes on the diagnosis and treatment of Barbara Watson. This operation was the first successful removal of a brain tumour with a successful outcome for the patient. Macewen presented Ms Watson to a meeting of the Glasgow Pathological and Clinical Society in November 1879, here in the College’s building (in the room now known as the Princess Alexandra Room). The meeting is recorded in the Society’s minutes, also held in our archives. Macewen published an account of the procedure in the Glasgow Medical Journal in 1879. However, Macewen didn’t receive wide recognition of his contribution to brain surgery until 1888, when the British Medical Journal’s editorial of 11th August stated: “With undisputable justice […] may Dr Macewen claim the proud distinction of having been the leader in this country, and we believe in the world, of this great advance in our art.”