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William H. Sweet, M.D., D.Sc.
3rd Chief of Service - MGH Neurosurgery

In Memoriam

William H. Sweet, MD, PhD, former chief of the Neurosurgery Service at the MGH and professor of Surgery emeritus at Harvard Medical School, died of complications from Parkinson's disease at his home in Brookline Jan. 22. He was 90. Sweet leaves his wife, Elizabeth, three children and eight grandchildren.

Dr Sweet's career at the MGH spanned more than 60 years. He made significant contributions to the field of academic neurosurgery, concentrating on both clinical care and basic research. Sweet founded one of the first brain scan research laboratories in the world, pioneered techniques for pain relief and helped to advance the application of proton beam treatment for brain tumors.

The First Annual
William H. Sweet
Lecture on Functional
Neurosurgery and Pain

“ Tic Douloureux ”

John D. Loeser, M.D.

Professor of Neurological
Surgery and Anesthesiology
University of Washington

2001 Sweet Lecture
html version - ppt version

December 6, 2001
8:00 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.
Ether Dome

A memorial service was held March 25, 2 pm at the House of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 136 Irving St. in Cambridge. Memorial gifts may be made to the William Sweet Professorship, Harvard Medical School, c/o Office of Resource Development, 25 Shattuck St., Boston, MA 02115. The professorship will be located at the MGH Neurosurgical Service.

The Annual William H. Sweet Lecture on Functional Neurosurgery and Pain was established at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in 2001, shortly after Dr.Sweet’s death.

William H. Sweet, M.D., D.Sc.
Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery) Emeritus
Harvard Medical School
Attending Neurosurgeon
Massachusetts General Hospital

Clinical Background
MD Degree: Harvard Medical School 1936
Fellowship: Harvard Medical School
Residency: Billings Hospital, Chicago, IL
Neurosurgery, Neurology
Fellowship: National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, UK
Board Certifications: Neurological Surgery 1946
Psychiatry and Neurology 1946

Clinical Interests:
Boron Neutron Capture Theory, Treatment Syndromes of Facial Pain, Treatment of Persistent Pain in General, Diagnosis and Treatment Craniopharygiomas, Diagnosis and Treatment Optic Gliomas
Representative Contributions to Neurosurgery

  • Co-inventor (with MGH's Gordon Brownell) of positron emission tomography (PET Scanning, Nucleonics 11:40-45, 1953)
  • Originator and major proponent of Boron Neutron Capture Therapy for brain tumors (J. Neurosurg 9: 200-209, 1952)
  • Developed the most frequently used procedure for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia (radiofrequency lesioning of the trigeminal ganglion. J Neurosurg 40:143-156, 1974).
  • First to use hypothermia for neuroprotection during surgery. (J. Neurosurg 12:240-255, 1955)
  • First vigorous advocate and successful proponent of complete surgical resection as the primary treatment of craniopharyngioma.
  • For more information see the MGH History of Neurosurgery.
Selected Publications:
  • Schmidek HH, Sweet WH, eds. Operative Neurosurgical Techniques: Indications, Methods and Results, Fourth Edition. W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia,1995.
  • Fromm GH. Graff-Radford SB. Terrence CF. Sweet WH. Pre-trigeminal neuralgia. Neurology. 40(10):1493-5, 1990.
  • Poletti CE. Sweet WH. Entrapment of the C2 root and ganglion by the atlanto-epistrophic ligament: clinical syndrome and surgical anatomy.Neurosurgery. 27(2):288-91, 1990.
  • Gybels JM. Sweet WH. Neurosurgical treatment of persistent pain. Physiological and pathological mechanisms of human pain. Pain & Headache. 11:1-402, 1989.
  • Slatkin DN. Joel DD. Fairchild RG. Micca PL. Nawrocky MM. Laster BH. Coderre JA. Finkel GC. Poletti CE. Sweet WH. Distributions of sulfhydryl borane monomer and dimer in rodents and monomer in humans: boron neutron capture therapy of melanoma and glioma in boronated rodents. Basic Life Sciences. 50:179-91, 1989.
  • Slatkin DN. Finkel GC. Micca PL. Laster BH. Poletti CE. Sweet WH. Distribution of boron in two (B12H11SH)2--infused patients with malignant glioma. Strahlentherapie und Onkologie. 165(2-3):244-6, 1989.
  • Finkel GC. Poletti CE. Fairchild RG. Slatkin DN. Sweet WH. Distribution of 10B after infusion of Na210B12H11SH into a patient with malignant astrocytoma: implications for boron neutron capture therapy. Neurosurgery. 24(1):6-11, 1989.
  • Sweet WH. Percutaneous methods for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia and other faciocephalic pain; comparison with microvascular decompression. Seminars in Neurology. 8(4):272-9, 1988.
  • Sweet WH. Deafferentation pain in man. Applied Neurophysiology. 51(2-5):117-27, 1988.
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