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He is a trailblazer in equine arthroscopic surgery and research in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of joint injury and disease in horses. People from around the world have sought his medical advice for their prized and, often, award-winning horses. Many of his discoveries have helped advance orthopedic procedures in humans.

Colorado State University’s Dr. Wayne McIlwraith was honored July 27 by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which presented him with its Lifetime Excellence in Research Award. The awards event was held at the National Veterinary Scholars Symposium, which was hosted by Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Established in November 2005, this award recognizes a veterinary researcher on the basis of lifetime achievement in basic, applied or clinical research.

McIlwraith, a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences is the founder of the Orthopaedic Research Center at CSU. He is also the namesake of the new C. Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute, which aims to deliver medical innovations by harnessing the body’s healing powers to help animals and people suffering from a wide range of diseases.

His research interests focus on equine orthopedic surgery and joint disease research, including novel treatments for osteoarthritis and articular cartilage repair, mesenchymal stem-cell and gene therapies, and early diagnosis of osteoarthritis and pre-fracture disease using imaging and fluid biomarkers.

McIlwraith has authored six textbooks, 450 scientific publications and textbook chapters, and has delivered more than 650 scientific presentations, seminars and workshops around the globe.

He also holds the Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair in Orthopaedics and is director of the Musculoskeletal Research Program, a CSU Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence.

In a letter nominating McIlwraith for the award, Dr. Sue VandeWoude, associate dean for research in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Dr. Wayne Jensen, professor and head of the Department of Clinical Sciences, said that the surgeon “has substantially impacted veterinary medicine, and has made significant contributions to biomedical research.”

His work “led to best practices” in equine orthopedics and cutting-edge biological therapies, including stem cell applications, they said.

Professor Alan Nixon, director of the Comparative Orthopaedics Laboratory at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a nomination letter that he has known the surgeon for nearly 40 years, and that his professional career has been influenced by McIlwraith’s mentorship.

“He is undoubtedly a prominent figure in modern day equine surgery, but from an early stage in his career has been a prolific researcher who has investigated almost every aspect of joint disease and lameness in horses, and beyond that has published and presented the results of this work across the globe,” Nixon wrote.

Calling him the recognized name in equine surgery throughout the world, Nixon also said McIlwraith has no equals. His impact in “equine research places him in a position of extraordinary prominence,” he said.

McIlwraith has played a role in nearly 200 funded research grants that total over $15 million at CSU. He has mentored 30 graduate students as an advisor, and served on the committees for more than 30 additional graduate students.

Dr. Steven Arnoczky, director of the Laboratory for Comparative Orthopaedic Research at Michigan State University, said in a nominating letter that one of McIlwraith’s greatest attributes is his ability to take basic science research and apply it to the clinical treatment of equine patients.

“He is widely recognized as an excellent equine surgeon among his peers and was responsible for the introduction of arthroscopic surgical techniques for the treatment of equine joint injuries,” he said. “In my mind, this has been the single most important contribution to equine joint surgery in the last 25 years.”

Arnoczky added that, “Amazingly, Wayne’s current research in gene and cell-based therapies for the treatment of osteoarthritis may eventually eclipse his arthroscopic innovations.”

Story written by Mary Guiden

Dr. Wayne McIlwraith receives lifetime research excellence award from national veterinary association