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James P. McAllister II, Michael A. Williams, Marion L. Walker, John R. W. Kestle, Norman R. Relkin, Amy M. Anderson, Paul H. Gross and Samuel R. Browd

Building on previous National Institutes of Health-sponsored symposia on hydrocephalus research, “Opportunities for Hydrocephalus Research: Pathways to Better Outcomes” was held in Seattle, Washington, July 9–11, 2012. Plenary sessions were organized into four major themes, each with two subtopics: Causes of Hydrocephalus (Genetics and Pathophysiological Modifications); Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus (Biomarkers and Neuroimaging); Treatment of Hydrocephalus (Bioengineering Advances and Surgical Treatments); and Outcome in Hydrocephalus (Neuropsychological and Neurological). International experts gave plenary talks, and extensive group discussions were held for each of the major themes.

The conference emphasized patient-centered care and translational research, with the main objective to arrive at a consensus on priorities in hydrocephalus that have the potential to impact patient care in the next 5 years. The current state of hydrocephalus research and treatment was presented, and the following priorities for research were recommended for each theme. 1) Causes of Hydrocephalus—CSF absorption, production, and related drug therapies; pathogenesis of human hydrocephalus; improved animal and in vitro models of hydrocephalus; developmental and macromolecular transport mechanisms; biomechanical changes in hydrocephalus; and age-dependent mechanisms in the development of hydrocephalus. 2) Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus—implementation of a standardized set of protocols and a shared repository of technical information; prospective studies of multimodal techniques including MRI and CSF biomarkers to test potential pharmacological treatments; and quantitative and cost-effective CSF assessment techniques. 3) Treatment of Hydrocephalus—improved bioengineering efforts to reduce proximal catheter and overall shunt failure; external or implantable diagnostics and support for the biological infrastructure research that informs these efforts; and evidence-based surgical standardization with longitudinal metrics to validate or refute implemented practices, procedures, or tests. 4) Outcome in Hydrocephalus—development of specific, reliable batteries with metrics focused on the hydrocephalic patient; measurements of neurocognitive outcome and quality-of-life measures that are adaptable, trackable across the growth spectrum, and applicable cross-culturally; development of comparison metrics against normal aging and sensitive screening tools to diagnose idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus against appropriate normative age-based data; better understanding of the incidence and prevalence of hydrocephalus within both pediatric and adult populations; and comparisons of aging patterns in adults with hydrocephalus against normal aging patterns.

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Michael A. Williams, James P. McAllister, Marion L. Walker, Dory A. Kranz, Marvin Bergsneider, Marc R. Del Bigio, Laurel Fleming, David M. Frim, Katrina Gwinn, John R. W. Kestle, Mark G. Luciano, Joseph R. Madsen, Mary Lou Oster-Granite and Giovanna Spinella


Treatment for hydrocephalus has not advanced appreciably since the advent of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) shunts more than 50 years ago. Many questions remain that clinical and basic research could address, which in turn could improve therapeutic options. To clarify the main issues facing hydrocephalus research and to identify critical advances necessary to improve outcomes for patients with hydrocephalus, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsored a workshop titled “Hydrocephalus: Myths, New Facts, and Clear Directions.” The purpose of this paper is to report on the recommendations that resulted from that workshop.


The workshop convened from September 29 to October 1, 2005, in Bethesda, Maryland. Among the 150 attendees was an international group of participants, including experts in pediatric and adult hydrocephalus as well as scientists working in related fields, neurosurgeons, laboratory-based neuroscientists, neurologists, patient advocates, individuals with hydrocephalus, parents, and NIH program and intramural staff. Plenary and breakout sessions covered injury and recovery mechanisms, modeling, biomechanics, diagnosis, current treatment and outcomes, complications, quality of life, future treatments, medical devices, development of research networks and information sharing, and education and career development.


The conclusions were as follows: 1) current methods of diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes monitoring need improvement; 2) frequent complications, poor rate of shunt survival, and poor quality of life for patients lead to unsatisfactory outcomes; 3) investigators and caregivers need additional methods to monitor neurocognitive function and control of CSF variables such as pressure, flow, or pulsatility; 4) research warrants novel interdisciplinary approaches; 5) understanding of the pathophysiological and recovery mechanisms of neuronal function in hydrocephalus is poor, warranting further investigation; and 6) both basic and clinical aspects warrant expanded and innovative training programs.


The research priorities of this workshop provide critical guidance for future research in hydrocephalus, which should result in advances in knowledge, and ultimately in the treatment for this important disorder and improved outcomes in patients of all ages.