August 2003 Bulletin

OREF: Encouraging research for nearly 50 years

By Gene R. Wurth

In his July "Update from the President," AAOS President James H. Herndon, MD, reported on Academy efforts to encourage and support research in some key areas of orthopaedics that will affect large portions of our population. He specifically mentioned the Board’s approval of the Unified Research Agenda (URA), "which will be used by leaders in the orthopaedic research community to advance science and research in musculoskeletal care..." The six clinical priorities of the agenda, he continued, "were recognized for their heavy burden to society, (and) for their importance to orthopaedic surgeons and orthopaedic patients."

Two of the URA’s six research priority areas are osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. These diseases have been crucial areas of orthopaedics for many years, due in part to the large segment of the population that suffers from one or both of these conditions. The burden of these diseases will become even more apparent in the near future as the "boomer" population ages. That age group has a longer life expectancy than previous generations, which means it faces more years of dealing with these problems.

Making things even more complicated, "baby boomers" are a group of people who are increasingly active into their senior years, so wear and tear on joints increases, as does the possibility of fracture due to the bone fragility that results from osteoporosis.

OREF supports osteoporosis, osteoarthritis research

The observations made by Dr. Herndon in his message reinforce the idea of the AAOS and the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) collaborating on priority areas of orthopaedics in the years ahead, while at the same time providing a chance to recall the long history of support in these areas in years past.

Throughout its history, OREF has funded researchers working in both of these areas. Since its founding in 1955, OREF has funded 41 awards totaling more than $2.1 million for work on osteoporosis. (There were probably many other research projects that had secondary or tertiary effect on osteoporosis, but for purposes of this article, I looked only for osteoporosis as the primary research area.) Our first grant on osteoporosis was made in 1959, just a few years after our creation, and 44 years before the development of the URA identified it as a priority.

OREF-supported osteoarthritis research

The involvement of OREF in the area of osteoarthritis is even more dramatic. Our first grant to support research in osteoarthritis also was made in 1959, and support of arthritis research has continued through the most recent selections in 2003. OREF has made a total of 48 grants totaling nearly $3.1 million for research on osteoarthritis.

OREF grants supports research, researchers

There are a number of reasons why this data is significant. First, it indicates that the OREF Grants Board has recognized for nearly 50 years that these conditions affect many people, and that quality research in these areas should be encouraged.

It is also significant because it was not just the research itself that was supported, but also the researchers. That is, receiving an OREF grant is often more significant as a way for the researcher to develop in his or her career than it is for the underlying research conducted. Many of the recipients of those awards are prominent leaders in orthopaedics now, and their impact on the research in this specialty has been obvious. At the time these grants were made, their reputations had not yet been made, or at least weren’t as substantial as they are now. The OREF grants they received helped them to focus and intensify their interest in research, and the work they did with those projects often provided the experience and data necessary for them to compete successfully for larger awards, such as National Institutes of Health grants, in later years.

In the same way, we expect great things from our current recipients in the years to come. Your support of OREF helps us to encourage young researchers whose later work can benefit the entire orthopaedics specialty.

Gene R. Wurth is president/CEO of OREF. He can be reached by phone at (847) 384-4346 and by e-mail at wurth@oref.org.


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