Orthopedic Clinical Research Center

Rick Wright, MD, and Amanda Spraggs-Hughes in the new Orthopaedic Clinical Research Center on the Washington University Medical Campus. 

Rick Wright, MD, executive vice chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, is heading a new and exciting effort to foster collaboration, synergy and more rapid translation of orthopedic research findings into clinical practice.

“If you want to make a difference in medicine, you can take care of a number of patients yourself, but if you use research to figure out better ways to take care of your own patients and then disseminate that to other physicians, you can change orthopedic practices worldwide and impact thousands of patients,” says Wright.

In April 2016, Wright became head of the department’s Orthopedic Clinical Research Center (OCRC), a new center where orthopedic surgeons in a wide range of subspecialties can now collaborate and share research personnel and resources. “We believe we can advance the field of orthopedics better and faster as well as spark more innovation by creating a place where clinical researchers and staff work together, exchange ideas and cost-effectively share resources,” Wright explains.

The OCRC brings together all of the clinical research under way in Washington University School of Medicine’s orthopedic subspecialties:


Clinical Research CORE Staff


A few of the OCRC staff members stop for a group photo in their new space.

The synergy within the OCRC will enable all clinical researchers to obtain study design, statistics and grant writing support in one place. A common database system also is being implemented. Of significance at the academic medical center is the opportunity to expand enrichment programs and support for orthopedic residents and fellows, thereby enhancing research opportunities within the training program and for junior faculty.

“One of our first priorities will be to improve and streamline our research submission process to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), which right now is an incredibly challenging process for young faculty and trainees,” says Wright. “We plan to establish our own IRB committee to review and improve the orthopedic submissions to help these research projects clear hurdles and move forward.”

Wright is intimately familiar with the hurdles clinical researchers go through to obtain grant funding. A sports medicine specialist, Wright has been a long-standing principal investigator for a series of large multicenter orthopedic research efforts aimed at improving outcomes for knee surgery.

Two years ago, Wright’s extensive research changed the course of clinical practice for treating revision anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.

“We found that revision ACL reconstructions were three times more likely to fail if we used an allograft versus a patient’s own tissue,” he says. “So, in other words, when a patient comes in and is reluctant to use their own tissue for reconstruction, I can give them stark data that objectively shows them that their decision to use an allograft will triple their risk of failure. Having that data makes it much easier to convince patients which is the better option.”

Continued research has not only pinpointed specific types of cartilage and meniscus tears that predict worse outcomes, it also has identified which surgical techniques, in addition to tissue graft choice, improve overall outcomes. Wright is now in the process of writing a renewal grant to follow more patients over a 10-year period to hone in on the predictors of arthritis in his patients, which can lead to an increased risk for failed ACL reconstruction.

“In every clinical research subspecialty here, we have changed the course of care for orthopedic patients around the world,” says Wright. “Whether it is treatment for a spinal deformity, rotator cuff injury, young adult hip disorder or a traumatic fracture, our research has improved lives and changed the course of orthopedic training.”

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