Dell Medical School welcomes first chair of neurosurgery

Rahul Khandekar

There’s a new neurosurgeon in town.

New Dell Medical School chair of neurosurgery Dr. John Kuo has always been around medicine. When he grew up in Taiwan, his dad, a surgeon, ran a clinic on the first floor of his four-story house.

“When I was little, I would look through the stairwell’s portholes to see what my dad did,” Kuo said. “As I got older, I could finally look over the railing to see more.” 

Many members of his community and family contracted hepatitis, so his dad sent him to the United States when he was nine years old to prevent him from reaching a similar fate. Inspired by his father’s work, Kuo studied hard to go to a Harvard-MIT joint program for both MD and PhD degrees. Afterwards, he completed his residency at USC and his fellowship in neurosurgery at the University of Toronto.

“Neurosurgery attracted me because the brain affects everything in the body, and neuroscience is primary care for the body,” Kuo said.

Kuo, the first chair of Dell’s Department of Neurosurgery, has lived across the country, from New York to Boston to southern California to Wisconsin. He said his experiences at these places have shaped who he is as a doctor and as a person. 

“Geographical location can play a factor in the diseases you see,” Kuo said. “The University of Southern California has a Level 1 Trauma Center where doctors trained for Operation Desert Storm.”

He said that the “controlled chaos” in this trauma center taught him the importance of working with professionals across all disciplines. The nurses in this center had more experience and knowledge than first year interns, and the neurosurgeons had to work with emergency room doctors.

This helped him formulate his own unique multidisciplinary approach to medicine in which many different health professionals work together to provide personalized care, Kuo said. The importance of these various disciplines working together can make all the difference for a patient.

This sentiment is shared by Dr. Clay Johnston, the dean of Dell.

“Kuo is collaborative and works with other disciplines well,” Johnston said. “He is a systems thinker and knows how to approach a system to solve these common health problems.”

Johnston believes that Dell Medical can make the Austin community healthier and stop preventable diseases. 

“We hope to stimulate new innovations in medicine, not only here in Austin, but also across the country,” Johnston said.

Dr. Gail Eckhardt, the head of the LIVESTRONG Institute, a cancer research and care center, has talked to Kuo about brain tumors and using the LIVESTRONG Institute to partner with the Department of Neurosurgery in formulating new treatments.

“We hope to research immunology, stem cells and brain tumors, and make biological models of these diseases,” Eckhardt said. “We hope to innovate new techniques in brain surgery to treat these tumors.”

She said she strives to use a ‘think tank’ style approach across disciplines to revolutionize patient care. For example, researchers, pathologists, radiologists and medical oncologists must all work together to help treat a patient.

“Dell Medical can spearhead this movement and change healthcare across the country, and Kuo can lead that,” Eckhardt said. “He will be a great addition to this community.”

Kuo said he was attracted to Dell Medical because as he learned more about Dell Medical School’s mission to innovate healthcare and promote multidisciplinary collaborations, he saw that the doctors and administrators at this hospital were in medicine for the right reasons.

“The creativity of the physicians across the fields at Dell can be used as a model, not only in Austin but also across the world,” Kuo said. “It is embedded in a first-class university, and I want to bring (together) engineers, chemists, nurses and physical therapists like I did in Wisconsin, people outside of what might be thought of as medicine … and work with them to find a solution for neurological diseases like brain cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. I am excited to work at Dell and hope to move healthcare forward.”