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AAOS Now

Published 12/1/2007
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Amy Kile; Sharon Johnson

The power of what if…

Then and now, visionaries transform orthopaedics through OREF

Since 1955, the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF) has been an important force behind the research—and the researchers—responsible for transforming the science and practice of orthopaedics.

“I happened to say, in a merely speculative manner, that it would be a fine thing if the orthopaedic community could establish a fundraising organization to foster research in orthopaedic surgery,” recalled Harold A. Sofield, MD, in a 1981 letter to Ralph T. Lidge, MD. “Al Shands (Alfred R. Shands Jr., MD) immediately adopted the idea and acted upon it …Credit for the birth of OREF should go to Al Shands—I held the retractors.”

Three years after that first casual conversation in 1952, a seven-member planning committee formed the OREF as a nonprofit organization. Today, OREF is known for a tradition of funding independent, peer-reviewed research and high-caliber educational projects. More than 2,650 grants and awards totaling more than $73 million have been made possible by faithful and generous contributors, primarily orthopaedic surgeons and industry.

A scientific basis for orthopaedic practice
Sponsored by the American Orthopaedic Association (AOA), the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the Orthopaedic Research Society, OREF was envisioned as the one foundation for all of orthopaedics. The initial goal was to fund research and education as the scientific basis of clinical practice. OREF’s first Board of Trustees included three representatives each from AOA and AAOS: Joseph S. Barr, MD; James A. Dickinson, MD; Francis M. McKeever, MD; Alfred R. Shands Jr., MD; Harold A. Sofield, MD; and Philip D. Wilson, MD.

The trustees met for the first time in New York City on Oct. 2, 1955, concurrent with the dedication of the Hospital for Special Surgery, the nation’s first orthopaedic hospital. One year later, OREF approved five of the 10 research applications it received and awarded grants totaling $9,300.

“For orthopaedics to take its place alongside other fields of medicine in the area of research and to meet its responsibilities for investigation is more important than ever before. This our Foundation can and will help orthopaedics do,” said Dr. Shands, who became the organization’s first president.

Providing crucial support
OREF quickly focused on identifying and encouraging promising young researchers who might have an impact on the future of the specialty. Many young researchers whose initial OREF grants laid the foundation for expanding orthopaedic knowledge went on to advance clinical practice in significant ways. In this way, a gift to OREF becomes an investment in the future of orthopaedics, not necessarily in a specific research project.

In 1961, the Board of Trustees began funding awards specifically for orthopaedic residents. Since then, grants and programs designed to help young investigators sharpen skills and gain laboratory experience have expanded to include research and educational grants for residents, resident research symposia, grant-writing workshops, support for resident journal clubs, and summer fellowships for medical students. In the past 10 years, OREF has provided $5.2 million in funding for resident grants and programs.

“It’s a great service to orthopaedics that OREF has helped to give seed money to so many young investigators and get them started,” says Joseph S. Barr Jr., MD, OREF Order of Merit donor, Shands Circle member, former trustee, and the son of OREF’s first vice president. “Look at the names of people who received grants over the years. Anybody who’s been in orthopaedics for any length of time would recognize those names … [They] became well-known investigators, heads of departments—prominent people in our field.”

Long-term funding commitments
Inspired by his own experience as a clinician in a teaching hospital and wanting to encourage young clinicians to take their real-world experiences into the laboratory, Zachary B. Friedenberg, MD, and his wife, Kathleen, established an endowment to fund the first OREF Clinician Scientist Award in 2002.

Soon after, Dr. Dane A. and Mrs. Mary Louise Miller followed suit, and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery also agreed to provide annual support for additional awards. These clinician scientist grants provide $100,000 per year for 3 years, and enable recipients to spend at least 40 percent of their time in the laboratory.

Current programs and permanent support
Little of what OREF has accomplished would be possible without the ongoing support of a growing base of generous donors. Individuals who donate $1,000 or more annually are recognized as Order of Merit donors and can designate a portion of their gift to any of OREF’s 38 orthopaedic partners.

From 1994, when the Designated Giving Program was established, through 2006, OREF has raised more than $17.5 million for orthopaedic research and education directed by its partners—AAOS, subspecialty societies, and other orthopaedic organizations.

The Alfred R. Shands Jr., MD, Circle recognizes those who contribute to an endowment for permanent support. Shands Circle members give $20,000 or more to fund research and education in perpetuity and are accorded special privileges, including VIP housing and access to OREF’s VIP Suite during the AAOS Annual Meeting.

Shands Circle members have contributed more than $64 million to permanently fund orthopaedic research and education. Established in 1994, the Shands Circle welcomed its 500th member this year. Of these, 26 individuals have qualified as Platinum-level donors, having contributed $1 million or more to the OREF Endowment.

2007 goals
Each year, OREF receives about twice as many high-quality grant applications than it is able to fund. You can help close the gap by making a gift by year-end.

A gift to the current annual campaign will support research and education projects next year. OREF also welcomes endowment support to fund orthopaedic investigations in perpetuity. Donors who qualify for Shands Circle membership by Dec. 31, 2007, will be invited to attend the 2008 Shands Gala, on Thursday, March 6, 2008, in San Francisco.

Giving this year is especially important because 2007 is the last year of the OREF special fundraising 50th Anniversary Campaign. The goal—to raise $100 million from all sources from 2001 to 2007—is in sight and can be achieved during the next few weeks with your donation.

For more information or assistance in making a gift, please contact Ed Hoover, OREF vice president, development, at hoover@oref.org or (847) 384-4354.

Amy Kile is public relations specialist with OREF. She can be reached at kile@oref.org. Sharon Johnson is OREF vice president, communications. She can be reached at johnson@oref.org