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In Memoriam: Alan James Nixon, DVM † (1955-2023)

It is with profound sadness that we learned of the passing of long time ICRS Honorary Member Dr. Alan Nixon.  Alan was a giant in our field spanning not only cartilage research but encompassing his passion for equine surgery and his mentoring of a generation of large animal veterinarians.

I fondly remember when as a young post-doc I got a call from Steve Arnoczky, DVM, then head of the HSS comparative orthopedics lab, who told me he was connecting me with a new Cornell Vet school recruit fresh from his residency at Colorado State.  Steve said he was interested in working on cartilage repair.  The rest as they say is history.  We published some early work using ACI with fibrin glue in an equine model, but Alan was a force of nature and made significant advancements in the field including his gene therapy program which made major contributions to our understanding of cartilage biology and repair.

Dr. Nixon graduated from the University of Sydney in 1978, practiced for a year and a half, and then completed a residency and research degree in large animal surgery at Colorado State University, leading to board certification in American College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1985. He worked at the University of Florida for 5 years before moving to Cornell University in New York in 1988, where he provided service in clinical orthopedics and neurosurgery, and served as chief of surgery from 2002-2006. He was also director of the Comparative Orthopedics Laboratory and JD Wheat Equine Sports Medicine Laboratory at Cornell University and was the inaugural Chief Medical Officer at Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists, a Cornell owned equine private practice hospital alongside the Belmont racetrack in New York City. Besides his extensive experience in orthopedic surgery his long career in musculoskeletal research, was funded with grant support from numerous external agencies, including The Morris Animal Foundation., Grayson Jockey Club, Quarter Horse Association, The Arthritis Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health, for studies targeting cell and gene therapy for joint disease.

He had well over 250 published papers focusing on equine orthopedic disease and surgery, with a particular interest in minimally invasive surgery, cartilage injury and repair, and novel regenerative medicine approaches to joint disease in racing and sport horses. He also edited and authored two important books, Equine Fracture Repair (now in 2nd edition), and Diagnostic and Surgical Arthroscopy of the Horse (in 4th edition). Dr Nixon was inducted into the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Hall of Fame in 2009, and awarded the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, Founders Award for Lifetime Achievement, in 2015.

Alan was a prolific mentor to a generation of aspiring veterinary clinician scientists including ICRS past president Lisa Fortier and Laurie Goodrich amongst them.  Although Alan did not have a Ph.D., he took a sabbatical to work with Linda Sandell, Ph.D. to learn how to do more advanced molecular techniques that accelerated his gene therapy program.  He became one of the worlds experts on clinical applications of gene therapy for the musculoskeletal system and was frequently called upon to consult to FDA on issues related to clinical translation.

Dr Nixon retired from Cornell University at the end of 2020, and continued his teaching, research, and clinical roles as an emeritus professor in equine surgery at Cornell, adjunct professor at the University of Florida, and as a consultant to several private practices in the US and abroad. He continued his teaching roles as a faculty member for the AO-Vet Fracture Repair Courses, and as faculty member in Equine Arthroscopy courses in the US and Europe.

Dr. Nixon’s contributions to our profession have gone far beyond just helping our patients. He perfected surgical techniques and concepts that have been embraced by our MD counterparts and applied to our patients. He accepted nothing less than perfection in his work and practice. He will be sorely missed by all of us.  He was a fun loving mate, extremely talented, compassionate and a brilliant scientist, I am honored to have known him as a friend, and collaborator.

Daniel Grande, ICRS Second Vice President





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It is with profound…
In Memoriam: Alan James Nixon, DVM † (1955-2023)