The intense curiosity and lifetime of investigation of one individual—Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, FRCVS, DACVS, DECVS—has paved the way for innovations in the field of equine joint therapy. Not only is he a Distinguished Professor of Colorado State University, but he has been honored with innumerable awards through his career for the tremendous contributions he has made to surgical developments in veterinary medicine.
The Academy of Surgical Research recently recognized him with the Jacob Markowitz Award for “outstanding contributions to medicine through the art, science and technology of experimental surgery.”
This award is usually given to recipients in the human medical field, but McIlwraith’s contributions transcend the field of veterinary medicine to inspire innovations in human medical research. McIlwraith humbly acknowledged the many other researchers in both the veterinary and human surgical field who have also contributed to his success. Collaborative efforts have produced great advancements in management of joint injuries for both horse and human.
Founding director of the Equine Orthopaedic Research Center in Ft. Collins, Colorado, McIlwraith is recognized for his pioneering research in orthopedic problems in the horse, and in particular his innovations in joint therapy. His research passions have focused on arthroscopic surgery as well as the management of cartilage repair to address cartilage defects and degeneration within joints. His life’s work has made a marked impact on the entire equine industry as well as the health and welfare of the horse.
McIlwraith began his investigations into equine arthroscopic surgery in the mid-1970s, using the then-current human arthroscopic advances as a starting point. Immediately he noted that radiographic findings did not correlate well with arthroscopic findings.
Through trial and error, he discovered that it was best to leave any intact cartilage rather than removing partial thickness defects down to bone. Rehabilitation strategies such as underwater treadmill exercise and swimming became part of the management in returning a horse to successful athletic competition following surgery. As arthroscopic techniques evolved, his surgical work advanced methods of dealing with fracture stabilization, fragments and osteochondrosis lesions within a joint.
Currently, he and his colleagues at the Orthopaedic Research Center are investigating gene therapy, the use of bone marrow-derived stem cells and other procedures as potential strategies for stimulating cartilage healing. McIlwraith is not content to rest on his already significant laurels; he continues to strike off into new realms of joint investigation.