The brains were collected by Dr. Harvey Cushing, a Yale professor and one of America’s first neurosurgeons. The article quotes Michael Bliss, a medical historian, who writes this of Cushing:
“Cushing became the first surgeon in history who could open what he referred to as ‘the closed box’ of the skull of living patients with a reasonable certainty that his operations would do more good than harm.”
Before Cushing's time, doctors relied on their patients for information that would lead to the site of a brain tumor. Cushing developed a test based on vision--various changes in vision caused by different tumors--to help identify tumor location. Though doctors now use MRIs to locate tumors, the article notes that "comparatively little progress has been made since Dr. Cushing’s time in actually prolonging life in brain-cancer patients." Dr. Dennis Spencer, the chairman of neurosurgery at Yale and the Harvey and Kate Cushing professor of neurosurgery, notes:
Everything we’ve done in the last 100 years has changed the progress for malignant brain tumors very little, extending life maybe eight months to two years.
To read the complete article and see a picture of the brain jars, see Inside Neurosurgery’s Rise by Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D.