UCLA donors combine efforts to honor esteemed orthopaedic surgeon

UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center physician-scientist Dr. Nicholas Bernthal named the inaugural Jeffrey J. Eckardt, M.D., Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery
Nicholas M. Bernthal, MD
Nicholas M. Bernthal, MD

A new endowed chair at UCLA will honor the memory of Dr. Jeffrey Eckardt, a longtime faculty member who pioneered limb salvage surgery.

The chair is funded by gifts totaling more than $1 million from 42 foundations, families and individuals, including many who were Eckardt’s friends and former colleagues. The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA received lead gifts from Maxine and Eugene Rosenfeld, the Leonetti/O’Connell Family Foundation, Jean-Marc Chapus, and Christine and Steven F. Udvar-Hazy.

The medical school named Dr. Nicholas Bernthal the inaugural Jeffrey J. Eckardt, M.D., Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Eckardt, who died November 13, 2020, was a world-renowned orthopaedic oncologist who retired to emeritus status in 2019. After joining UCLA as a medical resident in 1975 and then becoming a faculty member in 1980, he eventually went on to serve as distinguished professor of orthopaedic surgery and chair of the department of orthopaedic surgery. In 2001, he was named UCLA’s Helga and Walter Oppenheimer Professor of Orthopaedic Oncology.

The limb salvage surgery developed by Eckardt replaced amputation for people with bone cancer. He also designed and subsequently improved oncologic implants, and trained hundreds of surgeons in how to treat bone tumors and care for patients. Under his leadership, UCLA’s orthopaedic surgery department pushed the field forward by opening dozens of clinical trials to study less-toxic agents in sarcoma care; added gait analysis studies to understand and improve function after surgeries; and developed an “avatar” program of precision medicine to try to understand each patient’s individual tumor. 

“Dr. Eckardt was in awe of the support he received as fundraising for this chair began, and he frequently expressed how honored and moved he was,” said Dr. Francis Hornicek, the former chair of UCLA’s department of orthopaedic surgery. “We are proud to partner with these generous philanthropists who made a commitment to honor the work of Dr. Eckardt. His humanity, morality, and work ethic will be memorialized in the Eckardt Chair, which will serve as an enduring testament to his accomplishments and service.”

Bernthal, who was also recently appointed interim chair of the orthopaedic surgery department, shared a close relationship with Eckardt. After graduating from Princeton University in 2002 and earning his medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College in 2006, Bernthal completed his residency at UCLA in orthopedic surgery, followed by fellowships in orthopedic research and musculoskeletal oncology at UCLA and the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

An orthopaedic oncology surgeon, he joined the UCLA faculty in 2013 and is now an associate professor, chief of the division of musculoskeletal oncology, director of the UCLA orthopaedic oncology fellowship and director and founder of the Global Orthopaedic Initiative at UCLA.

Bernthal’s research is centered on enhancing quality of life for people with sarcoma. One focus is reducing the incidence of orthopaedic implant infections by improving both the implants and the patients’ immune systems. His National Institutes of Health-funded laboratory is developing new implant coatings to enhance patients’ ability to fight off bacteria.

Bernthal has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award from the Gold Foundation, which recognizes physicians who demonstrate both clinical excellence and outstanding compassion in the delivery of care, and who show respect for patients, their families, and health care colleagues.

He was one of five American surgeons elected to represent North America as an American-British-Canadian Traveling Fellow by the American Orthopaedic Association. 

“Endowed chairs are vital to UCLA’s mission to advance transformative research and education by enabling outstanding faculty members the intellectual flexibility required to pursue new paths and uncover breakthroughs,” said Dr. Kelsey Martin, dean of the Geffen School of Medicine. “These chairs provide outstanding faculty members with research flexibility — the cornerstones of breakthrough discoveries. I am confident that Dr. Bernthal will continue Dr. Eckardt’s legacy through his dedication to compassionate care, leading-edge research and community outreach.”