On Oct. 12, 2019, Cato T. Laurencin, MD, PhD, FAAOS, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences—just the fifth orthopaedic surgeon elected in the organization’s history and currently the only orthopaedic surgeon who is an active member.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1780 during the American Revolution by scholar-patriots, including John Adams and John Hancock. Its members include more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.
“I’m honored to be a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,” Dr. Laurencin said. “It’s a special academy in that it encompasses people from medicine and science to the arts and humanities.”
Dr. Laurencin’s recent honor follows a distinguished, multifaceted career. He is the first orthopaedic surgeon to be elected to both the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) and the National Academy of Engineering. Last year, he became the first person to receive the highest awards of both organizations: the Walsh McDermott Medal from NAM (named after the father of NAM) and the Simon Ramo Founders Award from the National Academy of Engineering.
“My work has focused on melding surgery and engineering for the benefit of patients. I’ve tried to be an innovator in orthopaedic surgery, working from basic science to clinical translation, to interventions that directly can help people.”
Dr. Laurencin has also been active in mentoring and is the only surgeon to receive the three principal honors for mentoring in the United States: the American Association for the Advancement of Science Mentor Award; the Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award for Mentoring; and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math, and Engineering Mentoring, awarded during ceremonies at the White House.
Dr. Laurencin’s accomplishments
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences encompasses a broad range of fields and specialties. Dr. Laurencin’s unique background has been a key factor in the remarkable trajectory of his career. He is dual trained in orthopaedic surgery and engineering. He received his BSE in chemical engineering at Princeton University; then he simultaneously received his MD at Harvard Medical School, where he graduated magna cum laude, and his PhD in biochemical engineering/biotechnology at MIT, where he was named a Hugh Hampton Young Fellow. While completing residency training at the Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Surgery Program, he maintained an active engineering research laboratory at MIT and was an instructor of biochemical engineering.
Becoming elected to an organization such as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is not an easy feat and requires a far-reaching impact—in more ways than one.
“The central criterion is excellence, but national and international impact is important,” Dr. Laurencin shared. “I think what is really key is to work to have an impact not only in one’s field but to have work that applies to many fields.”
As the only active orthopaedic surgeon who is currently a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (the first was Robert Lovett, MD, who was born in 1859 and elected in 1922), Dr. Laurencin stresses the importance of orthopaedic surgeons forging relationships with members of other specialties and fields. His own work is a hybrid of fields that he describes as regenerative engineering. His new field embraces convergence, the bringing together of approaches from disparate fields to create new technologies and new solutions.
“More people are starting to recognize that the simple ways in which we tried to solve problems in the past may have seemed straightforward but often did not work,” Dr. Laurencin explained. “We need to be able to glean insights from a number of different disciplines, which means really working to deeply integrate disciplines to be able to forge new knowledge and new ways of thinking toward solving new problems in new ways.”
In his own career, regenerative engineering encompasses stem cell science and physics, as well as classic nanomaterial science and developmental biology. “But the field must involve clinicians who understand the science to effectuate clinician translation,” Dr. Laurencin said. “It’s important that these relationships take place across different fields in order to bring new knowledge.”
“Orthopaedic surgery is a specialty that has traditionally embraced out-of-the-box thinking. That is one of the reasons why it’s so much fun. It’s a specialty built upon innovation and innovative people. That’s why it’s so attractive to young people. I see a great future in innovation and development of new technologies in orthopaedic surgery over the next decade,” Dr. Laurencin concluded.
Kaitlyn D’Onofrio is the associate editor for AAOS Now. She can be reached at email@example.com.