Sept. 15, 2009 | UAMS orthopaedic researcher Larry Suva was praised during his recent investiture for his work, his passion for science and his commitment to education and mentoring. But his colleagues and friends also associated another word with him: fun.
His sense of humor has created lifelong friendships, they said, and even fostered research collaborations.
Suva, Ph.D., a professor in the departments of Orthopaedic Surgery and Physiology and Biophysics in the UAMS College of Medicine, became the inaugural holder of the Carl L. Nelson Chair in Orthopaedic Creativity during the ceremony. The new chair honors the memory of Nelson, M.D., who served as chairman of the UAMS Department of Orthopaedic Surgery from 1974 until his death in 2005.
Nelson recruited Suva to UAMS in 2000 to help him establish the Center for Orthopaedic Research, which Suva directs. The Center for Orthopaedic Research was built on Nelson’s vision to cultivate multi-disciplinary research into orthopaedic disorders among basic scientists, orthopaedic surgeons, clinical researchers and students.
“Larry makes connections,” said former colleague Michael Rosenblatt, M.D., dean of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. “He makes connections across ideas, across different areas of sciences and he makes connections with people.”
Through his career, those connections have led to new areas of research in treating the skeletal consequences of disease. His research has included work on the world’s first osteoporosis treatment while performing postdoctoral research with the husband and wife team of Sevgi Rodan, Ph.D., and her late husband Gideon Rodan, M.D., Ph.D.
“Larry is a versatile, creative and critical scientist,” Sevgi Rodan said, recalling Suva’s colorful personality, “utter enthusiasm for science,” loyal friendship, sense of humor and sense of caring for every member of the lab.
Rosenblatt, a colleague in the Rodans’ lab, later recruited Suva to join him on the faculty at Harvard University. Rosenblatt hailed Suva’s work as a leader in introducing concepts of recombinant DNA and molecular biology to the field of bone biology.
Though Suva has more than 20 years of internationally recognized orthopaedics research with numerous journal publications and five patents, the investiture speakers focused more on the “big affable scientist from Australia.” No matter the topic, “laughter always found its way into the conversation” with Suva, said Debbie Walker, a UAMS Foundation Fund board member and longtime UAMS supporter.
Walker recalled first meeting Suva while Nelson gave her a guided tour of the Department of Orthopaedics. She said the camaraderie and admiration between Suva and Nelson was apparent.
When her young son expressed an interest in science, it was Suva who hosted him and a friend in his lab. That trip has grown into a regular event for middle school students from the New School in Fayetteville.
“They can see his love of the work and perhaps nurture a love of learning,” said Walker, who added that among the many friendships borne out of the Walkers’ support of UAMS, “no friendship is more heartfelt than the one with Larry Suva.”
Richard Nicholas, M.D., chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine, said when Suva walks across the UAMS campus, many will greet him and ask about his work due to his friendliness and outgoing personality. It’s these encounters that can lead to new research collaborations, he said.
More recently, Nicholas said, in collaboration with V. Suzanne Klimberg, M.D., director of the UAMS Breast Cancer Program, Suva has been responsible for development of a potential breast cancer screening tool involving patient tears.
The chair for orthopaedic creativity honoring Nelson is fitting, Nicholas said, because of the late surgeon’s penchant for creatively solving problems and his belief in the importance of research.
For example, Nelson worked to develop techniques for bloodless surgery before it became widely recommended that transfusions not be used due to the threat of spreading disease, Nicholas said.
“He was very creative. He tried to find solutions,” Nicholas said of Nelson.
Suva, sporting stylish frames on his glasses and his trademark earring, said he thought Nelson would be pleased and honored that a chair was created to promote creativity in orthopaedic research.
“This endowment ensures that the Center for Orthopaedic Research is in a wonderful position to continue its work,” said Suva, praising the center’s staff. “Every day we come to work in our lab is fun.”