Will Erwin Headache Research Center (WEC)


The Will Erwin Headache Research Center, led by Dr. Mark Burish, aims to understand the mechanisms underlying headache and facial pain disorders. Progress in the research of many of these disorders has been limited by the lack of diagnostic tests, few good animal models, and the rarity of many of the diseases. At the same time, a wide range of new devices and antibody-targeted drugs has opened up the possibility of many new treatment options. Our focus is clinical research, in studying patients. We study the molecular and physiologic basis of these diseases, and hope to provide a link to basic science research and treatment trials for these diseases.

The Will Erwin Headache Research Center is associated with the Will Erwin Headache Research Foundation, a non-profit organization with the admirable goal of finding cures for debilitating headaches. For more details on the work of the Will Erwin Headache Research Foundation, click here.


Dr. Mark Burish is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, where he also serves as a neurologist and interventional pain specialist. He obtained his MD and PhD at Vanderbilt University, where his research focused on brain mapping of motor and somatosensory systems including studies on how the central nervous system adapts after injury. His neurology and pain management training was at the University of California at San Francisco, where his treatment of patients led to an interest in headache and pain. For a full list of Dr. Burish’s publications, click here.


Cluster headache and trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (“TACs”)
• Detailed characterization of cluster headache and other TACs (questionnaires)
• Sleep and circadian rhythms in cluster headache
• Genetics of cluster headache
• Proteomics of cluster headache

While these studies do not directly test a new treatment, it is an important step in that direction.


As the same samples can be used for studies into proteomics and genetics, all of our studies have been combined into a single research project for participants.

For interested research participants: You may want to participate in this project. There is no cost to you, and no commitment to do anything. Enrollment would mean that you allow us to access your medical records, come in for an interview, fill out questionnaires, submit samples such as a blood sample, and be assessed by a physician. You will then be entered into a large database of similar patients. When there are clinical trials aimed at helping patients like you, we will contact you to see if you are interested. You can then decide on an individual basis to see if you want to participate in that clinical trial. We already have ideas we want to bring to our patients. Our goal is simply to figure out how to treat your disease better.

To qualify, you must be:
1. Age 18 or older
2. Have a history of cluster headache, paroxysmal hemicrania, SUNCT/SUNA*, or hemicrania continua
3. Able to consent and provide authorization to share prior medical records/imaging

*SUNCT: short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with conjunctival injection and tearing
*SUNA: short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with cranial autonomic symptoms

If you enroll, you will meet with our team, undergo a medical history and physical exam and be asked to complete a series of standardized questionnaires regarding the details of your headaches, sleep, functional status, psychological status, and quality of life. After your authorization, we will gather your medical records. There will be no cost to you, and you can drop out at any time.


Cluster headache has fascinated doctors for decades, as it has over 10 different names that refer to the same disease. It is a primary headache disorder like migraines and tension headaches but is more rare, affecting about 1 in 1000 people. The most prominent features of the disease are its circannual and circadian periodicity (with headaches generally occurring in “clusters” either in the spring or fall and generally during sleep), its intense and unilateral pain, and its autonomic features ipsilateral to the pain, including drooping of one eyelid, watering and redness of one eye, swelling of one side of the face, and running of one nostril. There are a variety of treatments, though in a substantial number of patients, none are sufficiently effective. While there are some hereditary cases and some links to particular molecular pathways and brain areas, the cause of cluster headaches is still unknown.


The Will Erwin Headache Research Center is located at the Memorial Hermann Plaza Building at 6400 Fannin, Suite 2010, Houston TX. It is located within the Texas Medical Center (on the north side near the Houston Zoo and Hermann Park).

For more information: Please call the research office at the UT Health Center at Houston Neurosurgery at (713) 704-6900.