Translational Medicine Institute officially opens its doors

Video: Jason Russell/CSU

Colorado State University celebrated the grand opening of the C. Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute on May 6. In a nod to the building’s legendary namesake, Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, the guest list was a “who’s who” in orthopedic medicine for horses and humans.

McIlwraith, a University Distinguished Professor and founding director of CSU’s Orthopaedic Research Center, is an international pioneer in equine arthroscopic surgery. He has pushed the boundaries of research into biological therapies based on living cells and their products, including novel protein and stem cell therapies that help heal injured and degraded joints.

In science, there’s never ‘too much information’

At the event, Dr. David Frisbie, director of the institute, recognized the vast number of people who helped raise funds for, construct, and shape the spacious, light-filled and modern facility on the university’s south campus, from the project’s inception in 2013. Since moving into the space in late 2018, Frisbie said he’s given countless tours, most of which end with people expressing amazement at their surroundings.

Frisbie, also a professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences and an equine surgeon, noted that McIlwraith was a pioneer in moving translational medicine to include the horse, calling him “the father of veterinary arthroscopy.”  The original equine orthopedic team got its start with one room in the nearby James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital; their new home encompasses 130,000 square feet.

Frisbie acknowledged the donors, including Leslie and John Malone, CSU President Tony Frank, and Princess Abigail K. Kawananakoa, a direct descendant of the Hawaiian royal family, who sent an official proclamation to mark the event.

Read more about Princess Abigail Kawananakoa

“Your generosity, trust and support mean a lot to us,” said Frisbie.

He also credited Lynsey Bosch, organizational service manager at the institute, for her contributions. “For a long time, she has been an army of one,” he said.

The next phase for the Translational Medicine Institute is now teed up: to leverage the body’s natural healing capacity and conduct research that moves from the benchtop in laboratories to the backyard, barnyard and on, to the bedside, said Frisbie. The team’s mission is to help answer tomorrow’s questions in medicine, for both animals and humans, and to train clinicians.

“At least in science, there’s never too much information,” he added, a nod to the acronym for the institute, TMI.

Moving the needle on human, animal health

Dr. Mark Stetter, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, described the expansion of CSU’s south campus over the last 40 years ago, starting with the veterinary teaching hospital’s move from the Oval on main campus to a corn field on Drake Road.

“The Translational Medicine Institute, in its short time of existence, has become a primary cornerstone” of the south campus, he said. Stetter said the institute is already moving the needle on human and animal health through its scientific advisory board members and trainings for medical professions, who come from around the world to work with world-renowned clinicians.

“What happens here with the people and this place will make a huge difference,” he said.

The C. Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute building is part of a $77.8 million project

Fostering real change

Tony Frank, chancellor of the CSU System and president of CSU, described the TMI as “a wonderful building.”

“I’m a veterinary pathologist by training, and rooms that have natural light seem a bit odd to me,” he said, a comment that drew laughs.

Frank also noted that the facility’s grand opening coincided with graduation season at the university.

“Over the next few weeks, we will be telling all sorts of people how they’re going to go out and change the world,” he said. “They’ll collectively do it, as a large generation that will have a sweeping change on how our generation has done things. Among that group, there will be individuals that will see things in a different way, and they will foster very real change. In my mind, that’s what we’re here to celebrate today. TMI, if you will, is about to graduate to a place that will really change the world.”

He also acknowledged Joyce McConnell, who will become the 15th president of CSU on July 1 and was in attendance.

“She is an exceptional leader and she is going to make a superb CSU Ram,” he said.

Discovering, creating the best therapies for animals, humans

McIlwraith said that he remains incredibly humbled by the honor of having the remarkable facility named after him. He acknowledged the presence of equine clinical and research colleagues, friends from the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and “newer” friends in basic human orthopedic research.

McIlwraith’s family, including brother Murray and sister Joy, traveled from New Zealand for the event.

The world-renowned clinician, who continues to travel frequently to take care of patients, reflected on his start at CSU in 1979, when he landed a job as an assistant professor. He soon began performing arthroscopic surgery on horses.

“The caseload was high because we were the only people doing arthroscopic surgery in the West,” he noted.

Watch a video interview and read more about McIlwraith’s career at CSU 

McIlwraith said that a pivotal point in his career was when Dr. James L. Voss, then the dean of the college, recruited him to be the director of equine sciences.

“He challenged me to build the best orthopedic research program in the country,” said McIlwraith. “His vision, mentorship and support were really critical.”

Other highlights include the appointments of Frisbie and Dr. Chris Kawcak, raising funds to build the Gail Holmes Equine Orthopaedic Research Center, and helping to establish the first endowed chair positions at CSU, thanks to the generosity of Barbara Cox Anthony.

McIlwraith said he conducted his first translational medicine research project in 1994, evaluating microfracture, a surgical technique to repair damaged areas of articular cartilage of the knee, with Dr. Richard Steadman of the Steadman Clinic in Vail.

Since that time, McIlwraith said not only did he and the team develop strong collaborations with industry, but they also partnered with researchers at some of the top universities across the country, including Stanford, MIT, and Indiana.

McIlwraith spoke of the professional and personal contributions from his wife, Dr. Nancy Goodman, who he met through her work with a racetrack practice in California, and acknowledged the contributions of  medical industry partners Arthrex and Tetrad, as well as architects Clark Enerson Partners and JE Dunn Construction.

He praised Brett Anderson, in his former role at the Vice President for Advancement at CSU, as well as Kim Tobin, current vice president for university advancement, and Megan Price, executive director of advancement in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“I am endlessly proud and humbled to be standing in front of you,” he said, noting that TMI clinicians and researchers will play a role as future leaders in tomorrow’s science and medicine. “I see us becoming the single credible agency for what the best therapies are for animals and humans.”

John Malone closed out the event by first reflecting on his family’s interest in biological therapies and support for numerous research institutions.

“It was a unique coincidence, Leslie’s love of the horse, which I’ve only come to lately, combined with our interest in these therapies, which led us to meet Wayne,” he said.

Learn more about philanthropists Leslie and John Malone

The vision — fueled by McIlwraith and Frisbie — to put together the expertise of one of the top veterinary schools in the world with these emerging therapies was an interesting combination, said Malone. They hit a sweet spot, an area where research and development and application came together “in a very pragmatic institution.”

“It all came together, almost like magic,” he continued. “The building has turned out to be magnificent… and we expect big things. We are as proud as we can be to be a part of this.”

“Here’s to Wayne,” he said in closing, while raising a glass of champagne for the historic toast. “And for TMI, a long life and great success.”