Congratulations to the AO Spine 2023 Luiz Vialle Award winners

Luiz Vialle Award

Named after the founder of the AO Spine Knowledge Forums (KF), the international Luiz Vialle Award recognizes young practitioners for their contributions to the field of spine research and knowledge dissemination to improve patient care and outcomes in spinal disorders.

AO Spine, the world’s leading academic community for education and research in spine care, is pleased to announce the winners of the 2023 Luiz Vialle Awards. They are Raphaële Charest-Morin, Christopher Nielsen, Benjamin Davies, Jin W. Tee, and Christopher Martin.

The international prizes are awarded to young, emerging investigators in recognition of their outstanding performance, active participation, dedication, quality of work, and leadership in spine research. Every year, up to five Luiz Vialle Awards are given to Associate Members of the five Knowledge Forums, AO Spine’s international study groups in the areas spine tumor, deformity, trauma, spinal cord injury, and degenerative disease.

Awarded for the second time, the Luiz Vialle Award is based on past achievements and future expectations, so it's worth keeping an eye on the future work of the winners.

Here, the five winners reflect on their time as Associate Members of their respective Knowledge Forums:

KF Tumor: Raphaële Charest-Morin, MD

Clinical Assistant Professor, Division of Orthopaedic Spine Surgery, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

I joined the AO Spine KF Tumor during my first year of practice. Transitioning into clinical practice, it was great to be surrounded by distinguished spinal oncology experts. The group has supported me throughout and contributed tremendously to the surgeon I am today. I have been an associate member for seven years and it really feels we are a close-knit group. I have established strong ties with many international institutions thanks to my connection with the group and this will hopefully lead to meaningful clinical and translational research.

The collaborative approach of the KF puts us in a unique position to deliver high quality research on spinal oncology patients. Through the prospective registries, clinical research will help us understand better what they are going through and how we can improve their care. For example, through the patient expectations in spinal oncology project initiated by Anne Versteeg, we will be able to better understand what is most important to our patients and how we can better talk to them so that they understand our message. Also, our collaboration with major oncology centers enables us to engage in translational research. Through greater understanding as well as molecular analysis of specific tumor biomarkers, we can personalize patient care and adapt it to their individual spinal oncology journey.

I am passionate about spinal oncology, and particularly the primary bone tumor population. I enjoy every aspect of treating these patients. I appreciate the human contact and the hopefully long-lasting relationship we can build with them. I also truly value the multidisciplinary approach and learn so much from my other specialty colleagues. I find those surgeries challenging but also very gratifying. Research and clinical care in the primary bone tumor population is really intertwined and I love to see how our research is directly applicable in the clinical care of these patients and how we can make a difference.

KF Deformity: Dr Christopher Nielsen, MD

Clinical Associate, Orthopaedic Surgery, Toronto Western Hospital, Toronto, ON, Canada

I consider it a great privilege to have been afforded the opportunity to become an Associate Member of the KF Deformity. It has allowed me to meet and collaborate with some of the top surgeons and academics worldwide in adult deformity.

The biggest change my involvement has made in terms of the way I work has been the way I think about deformity and the challenges we face as surgeons. Being exposed to the best minds in deformity surgery has led to more self-reflection about my own practices and beliefs. It has also led to academic exploration of mysteries that continue to elude us as surgeons.
It has been a lot of fun for me to be able to participate in discussions with all the KF members. I spend most of my time listening but have always felt welcomed and respected to speak up with my own opinions.

Regarding the projects I am involved in, I really hope that we can continue to find ways to improve safety and outcomes while reducing complications in deformity surgery. The major projects of the KF Deformity have had a huge impact on current practices and standards of care. I really want to continue to push the boundaries of what we do, and the AO provides a forum for us to do that.

I strongly believe in the importance of education at all levels on the health care spectrum. Deformity surgery is a massive undertaking for everyone involved, be it patients, surgeons, hospitals, or administrators. It is really important to ensure that everyone is adequately educated on the value and benefits of these procedures.

The most important advice I would give to younger colleagues is to always take the time to ask yourself how you can improve. Reflective practice is an extremely important aspect of growth as a professional. Reflect on things like the technical aspects of a case or the clinical aspects of patient care and try to remain positive with yourself. Personally, I want to continue to see improvement in all aspects of my career, year after year, and to do so I need to continue to challenge myself to be better.

KF Spinal Cord Injury (SCI): Dr Benjamin Davies

Resident Neurosurgery, NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Cambridge, UK

Becoming an Associate Member of the Knowledge Forum Spinal Cord Injury has been a major catalyst for my personal development through its combination of unique opportunities and world leading mentorship. This comes from both the forum members, as well as the supporting team at AO.

Being able to collaborate with my KF colleagues is a unique and rewarding privilege. It has changed the way I approach my work because it has shown me that the end of a research project is more than just the conclusion to a scientific publication. In fact, it is just the beginning because for innovation to truly help patients, the bigger challenge is bringing it into practice.

I specialize in degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM), a common and disabling but at the same time widely unrecognized and underfunded condition. AO Spine RECODE-DCM, a project on which I am a co-principal investigator, offers a research toolkit to consolidate these limited resources onto shared goals, whereby innovation in any corner of the globe can reach any patient.

A fellow KF member once said to me that humility is the greatest asset of a surgeon scientist: you have to always be open to new ideas wherever they come from, and you have to always be prepared to challenge your strongest convictions. I believe that for our generation, the greatest opportunities for improving surgical outcomes lie outside of the operating theatre.

KF Trauma: Jin W. Tee, BMSc, MB BS, MD, FRACS (Neurosurgery)

Associate Professor, The Alfred Hospital (Melbourne); Head, Spine and Neurotrauma, National Trauma Research Institute, Monash University; Dept of Surgery, Central Clinical School, Monash University, Melbourne, VA, Australia

KF Trauma is the pre-eminent global group responsible for conducting spine trauma research and establishing treatment guidelines. Within it, we improve spine trauma practice around the world, not by personal anecdote but with evidence-based medicine and consensus.

To me personally, being an Associate Member of the KF Trauma, and therefore part of a working group that is all about optimizing patient outcomes on a global platform, humbles me. At the same time, it significantly enriches my work as a surgeon and physician, which encompasses both surgical practices and all its pre and post management.

Moreover, it is a huge privilege to be working with great minds and even legends in my field. It hurries along maturity as it shows me, both via their lectures and their practice, how I myself can evolve professionally. It’s the epitome of my spine trauma career.

Thanks to my involvement, I incorporate evidence-based medicine into all aspects of my work. I supervise our spine trainees with its principles and strive to answer questions using research methods. I constantly strive to improve the knowledge base. In addition, I find it makes me more confident. I also definitely see consistent satisfying patient and physician outcomes.

I would advise younger colleagues to always strive to be better. Participation in a research group with a global orientation is the essence of that. We should always learn to work in groups, share knowledge and evolve as it is always a highway rather than going it alone. Also, we should always be quick to encourage but also be brave to speak our mind. At the end of the day, research is the only way to be judicious and credible.

KF Degenerative: Christopher Martin, MD

Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA

When I first went to medical school, I had a rather broad interest in the human body and my initial goal was to simply work in medicine in general. However, I became increasingly interested in musculoskeletal disorders, and especially in the spine. I’ve enjoyed the anatomy and the ability to tackle complex patient problems using sophisticated technology and techniques. Most of all I enjoy being able to positively impact the lives of our patients.

I became an associate member of the AO Spine Knowledge Forum Degenerative in 2018 at the invitation of my mentor, Dr. S. Tim Yoon. I contribute to several different research projects, and although they all differ from one another, they all have in common that they represent systematic attempts to close existing gaps in the discipline. For example, DegenPRO is an attempt to build up an international spine-specific database on the surgical treatment of degenerative spine conditions and the use of osteobiologics. The hope is that we’ll be able to answer questions that can’t be answered without a multicenter approach and large patient numbers.

What I enjoy most about my involvement with the Knowledge Forum is that it gives me the opportunity to collaborate with many different international partners and to build relationships with thought leaders in my field. The work we do here has the potential to make an impact internationally. The working environment is very friendly and super collegial. I am very grateful for the opportunity.

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