ARI Director and ARI advisory committee chair receive awards for transformative contributions to the global orthopedic research community

Prof Geoff Richards (left) and Dr Theodore Miclau (right) after receiving the ICORS Transformative Contribution Award at the ICORS World Orthopaedic Research Congress, September 8, 2022

When Prof Geoff Richards—director of the AO Research Institute, Davos (ARI)—and Dr Theodore Miclau—director of orthopedic trauma at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), Chair of the Advisory Committee for ARI, and AO Trustee—first met at the AO over 30 years ago, little did they know that they would one day both be recognized for their impact on the global orthopedic community through their sustained strategic and visionary activities.

Earlier this month, Richards and Miclau were each presented with an inaugural International Combined Orthopaedic Research Societies' (ICORS) Transformative Contribution Award at the ICORS World Orthopaedic Research Congress that took place September 7-10, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland. This new award pays tribute to Richard's and Miclau's international impact on orthopedics through their networking, scientific collaboration and exchange, the promotion of young investigators, and major contributions to basic and clinical orthopedic research. Each received the award individually for their contributions to the establishment and governance of ICORS and the college of Fellows of International Orthopaedic Research (FIOR), collaboratively leading to a substantial transformation of ICORS.

Moving the field forward through collaboration and networks

In 1991, Richards arrived at ARI from Aberystwyth University and took over the electron microscopy unit. He did this while also undertaking his PhD remotely at ARI through Aberystwyth University. Richards stayed on at ARI, where he is now ranked with his ARI colleagues by Stanford University as being among the world's top two percent of scientists regardless of scientific discipline. Since 2009, Richards has served as the director of ARI, where he oversees approximately 140 multidisciplinary scientists undertaking cutting-edge research in regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, biomaterials, and implant science. Richards is very proud of the great team at ARI and feels honored to represent them. Miclau came to ARI in 1990 as an orthopedic research resident, where he worked on research projects dealing with bone fixation and fracture healing with the late Prof Stephan Perren, one of the AO Foundation's founders (the AO Foundation was founded in 1984) and the former director of ARI.

"What makes the ICORS Transformative Contribution Award even more special is that Ted and I won this together—a scientist and clinician working together to improve patient care—similar to the beginning of the AO," Richards said. The prestigious ICORS award is tantamount to the AO's founding spirit and continued mission to promote excellence in patient care and outcomes in trauma and musculoskeletal disorders—network, collaboration, and exchange are core to the purpose of both the AO and ICORS. For Miclau, the award acknowledges his life's work: "It represents something I feel that is in the course of my lifelong mission: to move the field forward by developing collaboration and networks."

Although Richards and Miclau have known each other for many years through the AO, they began working together closely through their work to establish ICORS—a project that was formalized in 2013, with Miclau as its founder and president. The two were members of the ICORS steering committee, guiding the society into one with international reach and influence in orthopedics research. The formation of ICORS from the previous CORS addressed a need to reimagine and restructure a prior society so that the potential for such a group was fully utilized—a goal realized in the global influence and respect the society carries today.

Following the formation of ICORS, Richards founded the ICORS International College of Fellows, a scholarly academy of fellows that is a recognized international community of expert leaders within orthopedic research learning. Individuals selected as ICORS FIOR serve as a source of authoritative, scholarly, and critical comment and advice in the field. Richards mentioned, "It is great that another ARI advisory committee member, Prof Brian Johnstone, a friend and advisor, is the current chair of the college."

Scientists and clinicians working together at the AO and beyond

Beginning with their early days at the AO, Miclau and Richards have benefited from and promoted the collaboration between clinicians and scientists. Miclau was impressed from the start: "It became very clear to me that the AO was a special place, especially the research institute. It was an international melting pot, where a great assemblage of research ideas went on to influence the way we think about fractures and how we fix them."

Through the arc of his career, Miclau has continued to engage with the AO. In 1995, he was awarded the AO's Jack McDaniel fellowship and visited prominent trauma centers in St. Gallen, Switzerland, and Berlin, Germany. In 1996, Miclau joined the UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery faculty as an orthopedic traumatologist at the San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) and later became director of the UCSF/SFGH Orthopaedic Trauma Institute.

"I've had a long-term relationship with the AO. The people I met there—we became leaders together," Miclau stated. "I have great respect for the translational science that's come out of the AO. When I started working at UCSF, I began working on fracture biology. From a clinical standpoint, I was able to use a lot of biological concepts and combine them with fixation techniques. I brought that to California, and that came from ARI and my experience there."

Recognizing impactful science

Miclau underscores how impactful science begins and ends with a patient: "It starts with a particular problem—then basic research, translational work—how things could work in vivo, and finally developing the concept further into a clinical application. From a full-circle standpoint, that's how effective science works. The AO does that. From the very beginning, I was able to see that the work Professors Stephan Perren and Berton Rahn were doing developed from a clinical concept or need, and that a solution was applied back to the patients."

For Richards, receiving his award alongside Miclau was a special moment. "The chances of winning such a prestigious award at the same time as my friend and ARI advisor are extremely unlikely," Richards noted. In his acceptance speech, he spoke about the power of networks and sharing information. "It is so important for scientists to spend time together and with clinicians."

Miclau echoed those sentiments: "In 1991, we had no way to know that this was something that was ahead of us, that we would influence our respective fields in an impactful way." For Miclau, having known Richards since their early AO years and seeing their work recognized by a large international organization makes the award exponentially more satisfying—in particular, to witness Richards receive the recognition, as it also reflects the reputation of ARI. "He has taken the excellence of ARI and garnered external recognition for it. That he has been able to network the organization in the modern research world will be one of his lasting contributions."