research news

UB Neurosurgery one of handful of programs in U.S. to receive prestigious NREF grant

Esteban Quiceno with a spine skeleton.

Esteban Quiceno is the current spine research fellow in the UB Department of Neurosurgery, funded by a grant from the Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation. Photo: Sandra Kicman


Published June 18, 2024

Jeffrey Mullin.
“Being selected as an NREF-funded fellowship program is a feather in our cap. It’s a signal to prospective neurosurgery residents and fellows that ours is a good training program for learning highly specialized neurosurgical skills. ”
Jeffrey P. Mullin, assistant professor
Department of Neurosurgery

The Department of Neurosurgery has, for the first time, been awarded a clinical fellowship grant from the Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation (NREF). The grant will fund the 2024-25 spine and peripheral nerves fellowship at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

“This grant is an important national recognition, signifying that the Department of Neurosurgery in the Jacobs School has joined an elite group of nationally funded spine fellowship programs,” says Elad I. Levy, SUNY Distinguished Professor and the L. Nelson Hopkins Endowed Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery in the Jacobs School.

NREF provides education to neurosurgeons at all stages of their careers and funds research in order to identify links between best practices and improved outcomes in patient care.

UB is one of only eight institutions that NREF funded, including the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University.

Levy says the achievement is the result of the department’s research and clinical innovations in spine surgery, led by Jeffrey P. Mullin, assistant professor, and John Pollina, professor, both in the Department of Neurosurgery. Pollina is also director of spine surgery in the Jacobs School.  

‘A feather in our cap’

“Being selected as an NREF-funded fellowship program is a feather in our cap,” says Mullin. “It’s a signal to prospective neurosurgery residents and fellows that ours is a good training program for learning highly specialized neurosurgical skills.

“This validates a lot of the hard work that we are doing here, from conducting research to providing good patient care,” he continues. “It validates that we are doing the right thing to know that we are on a par with programs at the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. This puts UB Neurosurgery in that tier of programs, among the best in the country.”

The reputation of the Department of Neurosurgery was a key reason why Esteban Quiceno, the UB spine research fellow funded by NREF, was interested in the program.

“I knew the UB program was distinguished for its vascular advancements pioneered by Dr. Hopkins and for its legacy now continued under the leadership of Dr. Levy, making the department well-known worldwide,” he says. 

Spine program achievements

“In addition to its rich history in endovascular neurosurgery, the UB spine program in recent years has gained nationwide attention for its high number of academic publications, and the leadership of Dr. Pollina in minimally invasive approaches, and Dr. Mullin in complex spine deformity surgery,” says Quiceno. 

“The number of research opportunities, the productivity of the research team and the quality of the attendings and residents make UB stand out as one of the premier institutions for neurosurgical training in the United States,” he says.

Quiceno’s interest in neurosurgery began while he was attending CES Medical School in Medellin, Colombia, and continued as he pursued a neurosurgery residency at Universidad de Antioquia and affiliated hospitals.

While he says he was initially drawn to neurosurgery “because of the beauty and mysteries of the brain,” he found the science behind spine biomechanics, instrumentation, spinal cord pathologies and the occipitocervical junction, which stabilizes the skull bone to the spine, so compelling that he decided to pursue an academic career in spine surgery.

He also knew about the UB department’s highly competitive neurosurgery residency program, noting that the last year it received the prize for the highest number of submissions to the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

Quiceno came to UB Neurosurgery last summer after a fellowship at the University of Arizona, following a clinical fellowship in pediatric spine surgery at Queens Medical Center, Nottingham, in the United Kingdom, and residency at the Universidad de Antioquía in his native Colombia.

After leaving Colombia for Arizona and the U.K., Quiceno has been enjoying Western New York. “My wife and I have discovered a wonderful place characterized by warm people and the enchanting contrast of the seasons, which is markedly different from what we were accustomed to,” he says. “I look forward to taking advantage of my time in Buffalo, not just to improve my professional skills but also to grow personally and be part of this vibrant community, contributing as a member of the neurosurgery team at the University at Buffalo.”