A Brief History of the Laboratory

An orthopaedic research laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania was established in 1960 when Dr. Edgar L. Ralston was appointed Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. With a deep and abiding interest in musculoskeletal research at both the clinical and basic science levels, Dr. Ralston appointed Dr. Marvin L. Steinberg as Acting Director of Orthopaedic Surgery Research in 1964; and beginning in 1965, all orthopaedic residents were required to spend six months in the laboratory.

In 1968, Dr. Carl T. Brighton became Director of Orthopaedic Surgery Research. At that time, half of the first year residents in Orthopaedic Surgery were required to spend one year in the laboratory to work on a basic science project. The basic science faculty was composed of departmental members as well as faculty from the School of Metallurgy and Material Science. The close cooperation between orthopaedic surgeons and engineers eventually led to the formation of the Department of Bioengineering in 1973, and Dr. Solomon R. Pollack as its first Chairman in 1977. By this time, basic science research space in Orthopaedics had grown from the original two rooms to eleven different laboratories (e.g., electronics, biomechanics, biomaterials, electron microscopy, biochemistry) scattered throughout the Medical School campus.

A significant event in the history of the lab occurred when Dr. Brighton secured contiguous research space in the new Medical Education Building (now named Stemmler Hall). A major fund raising drive ensued and over $3 million was pledged. Major contributors included Mr. Louis Silverstein ($1.5 million) and the estate of Hulda and George McKay ($450,000). Since a new clinical building was to be named the Silverstein Pavilion, it was decided to name the new orthopaedic research facility The McKay Laboratory of Orthopaedic Surgery Research. Building construction commenced in 1977 and laboratory construction began in June 1978. On January 10, 1979, the lab officially opened. Thus, for the first time, all of the orthopaedic laboratories were housed in the same physical location.

The McKay Laboratory occupies over 10,000 net square feet consisting of twelve research suites, each containing one or more labs, offices and storage space. Because of the success of the research program in the training of academic orthopaedic surgeons, in 1978, it was decided that all orthopaedic residents would be required to spend a full year in the laboratory as part of their five-year residency.

In 1993, Dr. Brighton stepped down as laboratory director and Dr. Charles C. Clark was appointed as Acting Director of Orthopaedic Surgery Research.

In 1995, Dr. Robert H. Fitzgerald, Jr. was appointed Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Soon after, he began a search to recruit a new Director of Orthopaedic Research. In 1997, Dr. Louis J. Soslowsky joined the University of Pennsylvania from the University of Michigan to join Dr. Frederick S. Kaplan in directing the orthopaedic research programs in McKay. In 1999, the Center for FOP and Related Disorders was founded in the department and is directed by Drs. Fred Kaplan and Eileen M. Shore.

Faculty members in our department actively involved in basic orthopaedic research are Drs. Carl Brighton, Charles Clark, Dawn Elliott, Jonathan Garino, David Glaser, Nader Hebela, Russell Huffman, Frederick Kaplan, Robert Mauck, Ling Qin, Eileen Shore, Louis Soslowsky, and David Steinberg. The multi-disciplinary group formed at McKay includes orthopaedic surgeons, biochemists, molecular and cells biologists and bioengineers.Active laboratories include cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, bioengineering, biophysics, electron microscopy, and histology, all of which are dedicated to musculoskeletal research, with a focus on bone, disc, meniscus, cartilage, ligament, and tendon.

Currently, the laboratory accepts two third-year orthopaedic residents to spend one year (in addition to their normal five-year residency) in the laboratory joining the technician staff, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, medical students and undergraduate students participating in basic research projects under faculty supervision.

Funding for the McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory comes from a variety of sources including the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, National Aeronautic and Space Administration, International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association, Whitaker Foundation, and Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. There are also significant private donations and industrial sponsored research and contracts.

For information on the current McKay Orthopaedic Research Laboratory, see the links at the top of this page.

*Some of the information contained in this article originally appeared in Brighton, C.T. and Black, J. (1986) The history of the McKay Laboratory of Orthopaedic Surgery Research. Univ. Penn. Orthop. J. 2:10-13.

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