Five surgeons earn 2024 Luiz Vialle Awards for their contributions to spine research

Luiz Vialle Award

Young surgeons from India, Switzerland, and the United States are the recipients of 2024 Luiz Vialle Awards, named for the founder of the AO Spine Knowledge Forums. The awards honor young practitioners for their contributions to 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—congratulates this year’s winners: Ori Barzilai (United States), Sebastian Bigdon (Switzerland), Sathish Muthu (India), and Brett Rocos (United States). Now in its third year, the Luiz Vialle Award is based on past achievements and future expectations, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the winners’ future work.

Here, the five winners reflect on their time as associate members of their respective KFs.

KF Tumor: Ori Barzilai, MD

Spine neurosurgeon, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, United States

KF Tumor is an unparalleled platform for collaboration and engagement with esteemed colleagues in our field. The emphasis on diverse perspectives and collective learning has been extremely insightful and has markedly enriched my personal growth as a researcher and surgeon.

As a member of the forum, I have had the opportunity to participate in various research projects, including prospective registries, retrospective clinical insights, and narrative and systematic reviews leading to numerous meaningful publications. We continue to work on exciting projects including practice classifications, clinical trials, and prospective “real-world” clinical registries to name a few. I have found the process of defining the relevant knowledge gaps within the KF’s discussions as enlightening and highly educational. The ongoing mission is to tackle the most important and potentially

practice-changing obstacles in spine oncology, leveraging the group participants’ unique knowledge and experience.

On a personal note, I consider being an associate member of the KF Tumor as a true privilege and honor. The mentorship and guidance afforded within this community have been invaluable in my professional growth. The opportunities and support provided by this group have been pivotal in driving my academic and professional development.

KF Deformity: Brett Rocos, MD

Orthopedic surgeon and spine surgeon, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, United States

I am incredibly grateful to the AO for inviting me as an associate member of the KF Deformity, and for this award. There can be no doubt that being part of the AO permits collaboration across borders and across the world to the benefit of spinal patients, wherever they’re being treated. It is a rare opportunity to participate in academic spine surgery at the highest levels and to benefit from mentorship that is unparalleled.

Becoming involved in the KF Deformity has caused me to question every aspect of the care I offer the patients under my care, and to ask the difficult but sometimes obvious questions that need answering within our field. Although the enormous experience available to us within the AO can offer guidance, it is the willingness of the groups to admit when we don’t know that is most inspiring and motivating. Participating in the energetic discussions when we meet in person or remotely is always valuable, and usually leaves me with a long list of questions and research ideas to pursue.

I am interested in bringing the solutions proposed in quality research to the operating room through practical applications. I believe that whilst research has value in its own right, it is the clinical bottom line that is key—and translating academic conclusions to the real world is an essential part of the KF Deformity’s work in the coming years.

There are many facets of spinal deformity care that the AO supports: education, quality improvement, and research being just three, but the collaborations are what make it an incubator for success. My own work into safety and clinical effectiveness of deformity surgery has only been possible due to the collaborations established through the AO and the bridges built across departments. My own career has benefitted beyond measure through the connections made around the meeting table at AO Spine, and it is collaboration that I would direct young surgeons to when it comes to deciding what the AO can do for them.

Always asking “Why?”—that is what every surgeon should be doing with every aspect of their practice. As I have moved into senior practice, I realize that looking at every detail of practice, and never being afraid to admit that there is a better way is essential in this challenging but incredibly rewarding field. I am sure that with the support of the AO and the colleagues that I have met through the organization, I will be a better surgeon every day.

I am grateful to the KF Deformity for this award, and to Drs Christopher Shaffrey, Stephen Lewis, and Michael Fehlings for their mentorship and support

KF Spinal Cord Injury (SCI): Lindsay Tetreault, MD, PhD

NYU Langone Medical Center, NYUMC Department of Neurology, New York, United States

I consider it a great honour to be an associate member of the AO Spine KF SCI. Through this forum, I have had the opportunity to collaborate on a variety of research projects with some of the world’s leading experts in both traumatic and nontraumatic SCI. The leadership and other members of the KF have been instrumental in advancing my career as both a clinician and a researcher and have engaged me in several initiatives that will undoubtedly impact clinical practice. I find it particularly rewarding to gain the perspectives of health care professionals who practice in different health care systems, as their input increases the scope and depth of our research.

As a member of the KF SCI, I was appointed the leader of a guideline development group that aimed to develop recommendations on the timing of surgical decompression and hemodynamic management of acute SCI and the prevention, identification, and management of intraoperative SCI in patients undergoing surgery for spine-related pathology. This project afforded me the opportunity to improve my leadership skills as well as to meaningfully contribute to a set of clinical practice guidelines that will hopefully be translated into clinical practice. Additionally, I have had the privilege of leading the diagnostic criteria incubator as part of the AO Spine REsearch Objectives and COmmon Data Elements for Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy (RECODE-DCM) project. This group will attempt to establish a set of generalizable and reliable diagnostic criteria for DCM, in order to facilitate earlier diagnosis and treatment.

I am currently a final-year neurology resident at NYU Langone Health in Brooklyn, New York. Prior to pursuing my medical degree at University College Cork in Ireland, I completed my PhD and postdoctoral fellowship under the mentorship of Dr Michael Fehlings at the University of Toronto in Canada. My research interests include identifying important predictors of neurological outcomes in patients undergoing surgery for DCM, developing clinical practice guidelines, and improving the diagnosis of a variety of spinal conditions. After residency, I will be moving to Boston, United States, to complete a neuromuscular medicine fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham Women’s Hospital. I hope to continue contributing to the KF SCI as a neurologist and neuromuscular specialist.

KF Trauma: Sebastian Bigdon, MD

Inselspital Bern University Hospital, Bern, Switzerland

My journey with the AO Spine KF Trauma has been a remarkable blend of personal and academic growth. In this esteemed forum, we strive to narrow the gap between opinion and evidence, a mission that deeply resonates with me.

My passion for trauma research, particularly in the realm of advanced age injuries, is more than just a professional pursuit; it is a commitment to societal betterment. Every three seconds, someone suffers an osteoporotic fracture worldwide, presenting a colossal challenge to health care systems and us, the treating physicians. This reality fuels my dedication to not just conduct research, but to also ensure its widespread dissemination and application in clinical practice.

I am immensely proud to be a coprincipal Investigator in the KF Trauma osteoporotic fracture (OF) study, contributing to the creation of evidence in this crucial field. This work is not just a solitary endeavor but a symphony of collaborative effort. I extend my heartfelt thanks to my colleagues, mentors, and the vibrant community at the KF Trauma. Their wisdom and guidance have been the wind beneath my wings.

I am especially honored to stand on the shoulders of giants in our field, learning from their experiences and insights. This award is not just a recognition of my work but a testament to the collective spirit of inquiry and perseverance that characterizes our community.

As I look forward, I am excited about the prospects of furthering our understanding and improving patient care in trauma research. This award is a milestone, not a conclusion, in our ongoing quest for knowledge and service to humanity. Thank you for this honor, and for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those we serve.


KF Degenerative: Sathish Muthu, MD

Assistant professor, Government Medical College Department of Orthopaedics, Karur, India
Research head, Orthopaedic Research Group, Coimbatore, India

As rightly said, “Being a surgeon is a choice, but being a researcher is a virtue,” thanks to my mentors during my orthopedic residency who inspired me to adopt both of them in my career without compromising the other. My career trajectory as a researcher took a steep ascent when I entered the KF Degenerative as an associate member in August 2022. This position gave me the opportunity to be part of a global forum of leading surgeons, researchers, and key opinion leaders who are passionate about improving the standard of care for spinal ailments.

I entered KF Degenerative with the AO Spine Guideline for Using Osteobiologics in Spine Degeneration (AO-GO) project that developed the guidelines for the use of osteobiologics in anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) surgeries. Later, I had the opportunity to participate in many other projects such as Fusion versus Laminectomy for degenerative spondylolisthesis (FuLa), developing the core outcome reporting dataset for spondylolisthesis, chemoprophylaxis guideline development for lumbar spine surgeries, understanding global variations in perioperative management (POMa) in spine surgeries, understanding global variations in spondylolisthesis management, and so on.

One thing that inspires me to invest extra hours to work on KF Degenerative projects despite long surgical hours is about its equality in respecting the value of the ideas and efforts irrespective of the person who brings them to the table. Despite being an early career-researcher, my proposals and suggestions are equally heard among the global leaders of the forum; this enabled me to play a role in most of the projects under KF Degenerative as described above. I learned a lot from this team of experts in one way or the other about the practicalities of conducting global multicenter research projects. Furthermore, I am in the process of learning the nuances of translating the recommendations developed through research into actionable practice modification strategies at the earliest. The basic virtue that I learned from being a member of this forum is to be open to new ideas that challenge my strongest principles in order to refine myself into the best surgeon-scientist possible to give the best to the patients under my care.

To reflect on the opportunities that I enjoy from this team, I cofounded Orthopaedic Research Group as a nonprofit research hub that trains young minds to ask the right questions besides equipping them with the right methods and tools to answer them so that a meaningful change happens for a better tomorrow. I once again thank the KF Degenerative and its steering committee members for giving me this opportunity and the prestigious Luiz Vialle Award.

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