OREF funding leads to orthopaedic advances

By Amy Kile

Examples of innovations abound

“I thought that what I learned in my residency was what I’d be doing for the next 20 years. Not even close. Innovations have come so fast!” says James R. Urbaniak, MD, a hand surgeon at Duke University Medical Center, Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) grant recipient, and former OREF board chair.

Every orthopaedic specialty has changed dramatically, enhancing patient care. Many improvements are due to the results of research and education; several of these research projects were supported by funding from OREF.

Members of the Duke Orthopaedic Research Laboratory involved in molecular and microsurgical studies of the musculoskeletal system include (left to right): Farshid Guilak, PhD; Tony Seaber; Long-En Chen, MD, PhD; and James R. Urbaniak, MD. Courtesy of OREF

Nancy H. Miller, MD, (left) and laboratory administrator and technician Beth Marosy pose near a radiograph of a scoliosis patient. Dr. Miller is holding the model she uses to explain scoliosis when she visits families.

Patience pays

Osteoporosis treatments, developed with the help of OREF funding, re­duce the risk of sustaining a fracture.

“Osteoporosis has been successfully addressed by medicines, such as bisphosphonates and intermittent use of parathyroid hormone injections, which either inhibit or block resorption of bone, or increase bone formation,” says William H. Harris, MD, of Boston, who received an OREF grant that helped fund his tetracycline labeling study of metabolic bone diseases. “Our OREF grant played an important role in establishing tetracycline labeling research.”

OREF also provided funding for investigations of the causes of joint distress in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other arthritic conditions. “Looking back, you can see how OREF-funded work enabled other people to develop specific therapeutic drugs,’” says longtime OREF supporter and grant recipient Victor Goldberg, MD, of Case Western Reserve University of Medicine.

Envisioning surgical breakthroughs and new treatment techniques

All orthopaedic patients, especially those with spinal diseases and injuries, stand to benefit from a study that OREF clinician-scientist Francis H. Shen, MD, is conducting. Dr. Shen, of the University of Virginia Health System, is investigating the possibility that spine surgery might be replaced by injections that induce fusion with less pain and risk than traditional grafting.

Cancer and its complications are also being addressed with OREF-supported studies on how to target the path of metastasizing kidney cancer to prevent it from entering and destroying bone. “We’re tying to stop some of the suffering due to bone metastasis,” said Kristy L. Weber, MD, of Johns Hopkins. “The OREF/Zimmer award was one of the first grants I received for the bone metastasis research. Without that support, we wouldn’t be going forward as we are.”

Screening and monitoring

Innovations in orthopaedics are not limited to treatment technique. Preventive improvements can be realized through screening and monitoring. Scoliosis data was compiled with support from OREF to help surgeons determine appropriate treatment, thus decreasing the pain, complications, and risks of unnecessary surgery.

“Clinical research on fundamental problems such as natural history, long-term follow-up, and outcomes of conditions [such as scoliosis] is very expensive, and funding sources are few and far between,” says Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “I am grateful to OREF for funding this endeavor.”

Patients at risk for scoliosis may also be able to learn how great their risk is and, if diagnosed, have therapy tailored to their individual situations. OREF-funded investigations contributing to the growing base of knowledge on scoliosis screening include studies by Nancy H. Miller, MD, who received a 2001 OREF Career Development Award and funding from the National Institutes of Health, and by Philip F. Giampietro, MD, PhD, and Cathleen L. Raggio, MD, who were supported by a 2007 OREF Research Grant.

For more information, visit the OREF booth, located on Level 2, Venetian Foyer East, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., through Saturday. Or, visit or contact Ed Hoover, vice president, development at or (847) 384-4354.

Amy Kile, OREF publications manager, can be reached at