Dr. Jeffery A. Williams, associate professor of neurosurgery and oncology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who devised a method of treating brain tumors with radiation that spared surrounding tissue, died Saturday of a heart attack while exercising at the hospital's fitness center. He was 50.
The Canton resident was one of the world's foremost radiosurgeons and director of stereotactic radiosurgery, a division of the department of neurosurgery at Hopkins that treats tumors with focused radiation.
"He developed an entirely new system of implantable brain tumor treatments with radiation therapy which is now FDA approved and being used around the world," said Dr. Henry Brem, professor of neurosurgery and director of the Johns Hopkins Neurosurgical Oncology Center. "This is an important alternative to more invasive methods for treating many brain tumors."
Dr. Williams devised Gliasite Catheter radiation therapy, which uses biodegradable polymers, or plastic balloons, to deliver radiosensitizing agents directly to the brain tumor.
"He discovered that a balloon in the brain could deliver radiation directly into the tumor while protecting the surrounding area," Dr. Brem said. "This was administering a high dose of medicine where the patient needed it the most."
The treatment brought Dr. Williams great acclaim, said Dr. Brem, adding, "The world sought him out."
In 1999, Dr. Williams founded Proxima Therapeutics Inc. in Alpharetta, Ga., near Atlanta, to market and promote the Gliasite Catheter.
"In addition to being our founder, he has served as chairman of the company's medical advisory board," said Timothy J. Patrick, president and chief executive officer of Proxima. "He was a brilliant man who had an encyclopedic knowledge of neurosurgery and radiation therapy."
Dr. Williams was born in Vallejo, Calif., and raised in Merritt Island, Fla. He received a bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1973 and a medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1977.
He completed fellowships in nuclear medicine at Emory University in Atlanta and at Hopkins, and a residency in radiation oncology at St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center in New York City in 1986, and at Hopkins in 1989.
In 1993, he completed his residency in neurosurgery at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, and began his career at Hopkins that year as an instructor of neurosurgery and oncology.
Dr. Williams was the only person in the world who was board certified in nuclear medicine, radiology and neurological surgery, according to Dr. Brem.
"He maintained a Web site and promised to answer all questions within 24 hours," Dr. Brem said. "He reviewed X-rays, often 25 or 30 a day, that arrived at Hopkins from all over the world. He didn't care whether they were being treated at Hopkins or not. He wasn't being paid for answering e-mails from people he didn't know. He felt that desperate people needed factual information which he could provide from the goodness of his heart."
A memorial service will be held at 4:30 p.m. today in Hurd Hall at Johns Hopkins Hospital, 600 N. Wolfe St.
Dr. Williams is survived by his father, Marvin C. Williams of Merritt Island; a sister, Janet W. Kernan of Virginia Beach, Va.; a nephew; a niece; and a special friend, Dr. Xuan Yuan of Baltimore, whose parents were on their way from China to meet him when he died.