Today's News

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Profile of Orthopaedic Accomplishment: Marshall R. Urist, MD

By A. Seth Greenwald, DPhil(Oxon); Christine Heim, BSc; Harri Reddi, PhD; Randy Rosier, MD; Harvinder Sandhu, MD; and Donna Toohey

Clinical research can stimulate significant advances in treatment and can give rise to entire industries, as the life and work of Marshall R. Urist, MD, proves. The year 2004 marks the 90th anniversary of his birth and the AAOS Biological Implants Committee is proud to pay him tribute with a special exhibit in the lower level Concourse near Hall A.

The legacy of Dr. Urist's discovery of bone morphogenic protein (BMP) as a stimulator of skeletal repair will affect orthopaedic surgery and the industry it has spawned for decades to come. Dr. Urist's significant contributions to orthopaedics-indeed to medicine in general-are testamentary support to the value and applicability of clinical research to the practice of medicine.

A brief biography

Marshall Urist attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate and received his MD degree from Johns Hopkins in 1941. Following an internship year at Children's Hospital in Baltimore, Dr. Urist joined the war effort. He served as the Chief of Orthopaedics in the 22nd General Hospital Division in England and in the 97th General Hospital Division in Germany.

After the war, Dr. Urist completed his medical training at Massachusetts General Hospital. He then began his career-long association with the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1948.

At UCLA, Dr. Urist was commissioned by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to research strontium 90, tetracycline, and the treatment of osteogenic sarcoma. During this research, Urist developed an initial interest in the area that would become his professional calling: bone induction by demineralized bone matrix and bone morphogenic proteins. For the next five decades, the Bone Research Laboratory at UCLA became the epicenter for Dr. Urist's research into the biochemical and cellular mechanics of osteoinduction.

Contravening conventional wisdom, Dr. Urist persisted in the belief that bone regeneration was possible through the utilization of demineralized bone matrix. He confirmed this theory in his seminal 1965 article in Science, "Bone: Formation by Autoinduction." This paper eventually spawned international research in this field and led to a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1991. In 1997, Dr. Urist was honored with a National Institute of Health Research Landmark Contribution to Science Award.

Dr. Urist trained and mentored hundreds of young medical residents, fellows and researchers during his tenure at UCLA. The "Bone Lab" became an epicenter of scientific and intellectual exchange. Dr. Urist served as the Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research during the years of 1966 through 1993.

Dr. Urist received his first Kappa Delta Award from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Orthopaedic Research Society in 1950 for his work on estrogen effects in bone. His second Kappa Delta was awarded in 1981 for his classic work on BMPs. Dr. Urist trained several orthopaedic surgeon-scientists in Japan, whom he referred to as his "sons of Nagoya." He was subsequently conferred an Honorary Membership in the Japanese Orthopaedic Association in 1991.

Marshall Urist met a young medical social worker named Alice Pfund in Baltimore during his internship. They were married in 1941, and had three children: Marshall McLean, Nancy, and John Baxter. The Urists lived in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles, where Dr. Urist enjoyed his leisure by reading, fishing, growing avocados and cheering the UCLA Bruins and the Dodgers. Dr. Urist passed away on February 4, 2001, at the age of 86 years.

Visit the exhibit

The AAOS Biological Implants Committee has developed a special exhibit on the life and work for Dr. Urist. The exhibit, on display in the lower level Concourse near Hall A, pays tribute to a man who was a loving husband and father, an inspiring teacher and mentor, and a dedicated physician and researcher. Although the orthopaedic community mourns his passing, it also celebrates the accomplishments and vision he espoused.

Marshall Urist's greatest legacies may be the industry that the practicality of his discoveries has spawned and the continuous reminder that individuals can make a difference. His dedication to orthopaedic research emphasizes its importance in advancing our understanding and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders.

Dr. Urist's wife and children generously donated many of the artifacts and papers on display. The Marshall Urist exhibit was made possible by generous donations from the AAOS Council on Research, the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation, the Orthopaedic Research Society, and the Medtronic Sofamor Danek Corporation.

  Marshall Urist, MD (photo courtesy of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery)

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Last modified 20/February/2004