Silva named Peterson Professor in Orthopaedics

Matthew J. Silva, PhD, has been named the Julia and Walter R. Peterson Orthopaedic Research Professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Silva, a biomedical and mechanical engineer, was installed as the first Peterson Research Professor by Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

“We’re very grateful for Dr. Peterson’s generosity to Washington University,” Shapiro said. “Dr. Peterson made contributions in his and his mother Julia’s names to the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery for more than 20 years, and those gifts helped lay the foundation for both the Peterson Hand Center and for this professorship.”

Silva conducts research in the field of skeletal mechanobiology — how bones respond to mechanical forces. His work addresses the clinical problems of osteoporosis and bone injury. He studies bone healing following stress fractures and conducts other studies that detail how bones change as we age and how it might be possible to make those aging bones stronger. He also studies the biomechanics of tendon healing.

“We are very fortunate to have scientists of Matt Silva’s caliber in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery,” said Richard H. Gelberman, MD, the Fred C. Reynolds Professor and head of the department. “He brings the perspectives of a mechanical engineer to research involving joint replacement and bone and tendon healing, and this professorship will help to advance that work.”

Walter Peterson

The late Walter R. Peterson, MD, was born in 1900 and grew up in a lumber town in Washington state. He worked his way through college at the University of Washington before coming to Washington University School of Medicine to seek his medical degree, which he earned in 1926.

Peterson then worked for two years for the Frisco Railroad at its company hospital in St. Louis. During that time, he was exposed to many patients involved in accidents, and that stimulated his interest in orthopaedics. Next, he did a residency at New York Orthopaedic Hospital (part of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center), and later settled into private practice in Trenton, N.J.

A member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery, Peterson was on the clinical faculty at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine for almost 30 years and continued practicing as a surgeon until he was 70. After that, he did patient consults and continued to see patients well into his 80s. He died in 1986.

Matthew Silva

Silva also holds appointments in biomedical engineering and in mechanical engineering and materials science in the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1982 and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 1984. His master’s thesis dealt with total hip replacement.

Following that, he worked for several years doing orthopaedic implant design and analysis at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

He returned to graduate school in 1990 and worked as a research assistant in the Orthopaedic Biomechanics Lab at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. Later, he earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also completed a postdoctoral research fellowship before joining the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Washington University in 1996.

When he arrived at the university, he was both an instructor in orthopaedic surgery and an affiliate assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Since then, Silva also has been the head of the Biomechanical Engineering Lab in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be the first recipient of the Peterson professorship,” Silva says. “It truly was a memorable day, an opportunity to celebrate with family, friends and colleagues, many of whom have been great supporters and mentors. Washington University has been a wonderful place for me to pursue my academic career, and this professorship will support continuing research on problems involving osteoporosis and bone healing.”

Silva is an author on more than 120 peer-reviewed scientific articles, as well as several invited articles and book chapters. He also served as editor of the book Skeletal Aging and Osteoporosis: Biomechanics and Mechanobiology, which was published in 2012.

He is highly regarded as a teacher and has mentored more than 50 undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in his lab. He also has been an investigator on more than 30 funded research projects, with continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health since 2001.

He is a member of the American Society of Biomechanics, the Orthopaedic Research Society, the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research and the Biomedical Engineering Society. In 1996, Silva received the New Investigator Recognition Award from the Orthopaedic Research Society. He also has received the Washington University Department of Orthopaedic Surgery’s Lee Ford Award for Academic Achievement in 2001 and the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Caubaud Award in 2002.

He was a regular member of the NIH study section on Skeletal Biology, Structure and Regeneration from 2007-2011. He is a member of the editorial board of the journal Calcified Tissue International and is a reviewer for several journals, including Bone, the Journal of Biomechanics, Journal of Bone and Mineral Research and Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.