Wayne McIlwraith: transforming the field of equine orthopaedic surgery

Colorado State University President Tony Frank describes Dr. Wayne McIlwraith as a true leader in the field of equine orthopaedic surgery.

“I would suggest to you this wasn’t always obvious,” said Frank, in opening remarks to more than 100 people at the President’s Community Lecture Series on April 18. McIlwraith was born in a small town in New Zealand. “Sneaking down occasionally to the race track, he developed a love for horses,” Frank explained.

Among his many titles, McIlwraith is a University Distinguished Professor, the highest honor given to CSU faculty. “The title is reserved for those individuals who have truly transformed their field,” said Frank. “Wayne is an exceptional educator and an exceptional researcher. He has also been a lear of engagement.”

In addition, he has traveled the world, climbed mountains (real and figurative) and has a great sense of humor, Frank added.

Wayne McIlwraith presidents lecture April 2017
The President’s Community Lecture Series introduces CSU research, entrepreneurship and innovation to the Fort Collins community.

McIlwraith said that he started alpine mountain climbing in 1967, his first year as an undergraduate at Massey University in New Zealand. Climbing was his passion, he said. When he originally decided to pursue veterinary medicine, he imagined he’d work in a rural veterinary medicine practice. “I thought it was the ideal,” he said.

But a chance meeting with a Massey University graduate at a Christmas party in England led to McIlwraith pursuing a large animal surgery internship at the University of Guelph in Canada. “That’s how fate plays its hand,” he said.

In his talk, “Joint Injury and Arthritis: Helping Horses and Humans,” McIlwraith discussed the evolution of advanced surgical techniques and regenerative therapies in the successful treatment of equine athletes. He discussed how knowledge gained in the treatment of equine athletes can be extrapolated to humans, touching on advances in human joint injury and disease, including osteoarthritis.

He was an early proponent of arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical technique, which led to a championship for one of his patients, a racehorse named Spend A Buck. McIlwraith removed a bone chip arthroscopically from the horse’s stifle, and, five months later, Spend A Buck went on to win the Kentucky Derby in 1985. “I got lucky. The horse had the talent,” McIlwraith told the audience, as he showed a video of the thrilling race.

Wayne McIlwraith presidents lecture April 2017
McIlwraith was an early proponent of arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical technique.

That win marked a turning point in what became the standard of care for orthopaedic injuries.

Watch the lecture online to learn more about McIlwraith’s ground-breaking work on equine joint disease and parallels in human medicine with osteoarthritis.

About Wayne McIlwraith

McIlwraith was trained in New Zealand, Canada and the United States. He holds honorary degrees from universities in Austria, New Zealand, Italy, England, and the United States. He consults worldwide as an expert equine surgeon and has received numerous awards for his innovations.

The Orthopaedic Research Center is part of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Under McIlwraith’s leadership, the center’s work in stem-cell and other regenerative therapies led to creation of the Translational Medicine Institute, which will develop treatments for people and animals. Groundbreaking for the institute is set this spring, with a lead gift of $42.5 million gift from philanthropists John and Leslie Malone.

About the President’s Community Lecture Series

The President’s Community Lecture Series, hosted by CSU President Tony Frank, features free, public talks by university faculty. The talks introduce CSU research, entrepreneurship and innovation to the Fort Collins community.

Past President’s Community Lecture Series speakers have included Professor of Music, Theatre & Dance Joel Bacon, Professor of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Robin Reid, Professor of Animal Sciences Temple Grandin, University Distinguished Professors Dr. Stephen Withrow and Diana Wall, Professors Amy Prieto, Lori Peek, and Bryan Willson, and Ajay Menon, speaking as dean of the College of Business.