Michael Conzemius

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PEOPLE: THE HEART OF THE CVM

Michael Conzemius 

A board-certified veterinary surgeon, Dr. Michael Conzemius has dedicated his career to minimizing the pain animals feel by working to advance small-animal orthopedic surgery, veterinary medicine, and clinically relevant research.

“Roughly 40 percent of the time, I’m on the hospital floor seeing cases,” he says. “Even when I am not on the hospital floor—whether I’m working on a study design or reviewing literature on arthritis or joint replacement—I’m still working as a small-animal surgeon. There is a lot more to being a clinician than just seeing cases. You have to grow as a clinician. You have to invest time in learning.”

Conzemius’s specialty is orthopedics —specifically solving problems of the elbow and knee of the dog. He attributes much of his success to the important mentors who guided him along the way.

“During my residency at the University of Pennsylvania, I had mentors who emphasized the importance of advancing the profession and looking critically at the scientific literature, the information in textbooks, and the decisions I make on the cases I treat,” he recalls. 

Mike Conzemius

After finishing his residency and obtaining board certification from the American College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1996, Conzemius went on to obtain a degree in biomedical engineering in 2000 from Iowa State University, where he had received his DVM a decade earlier.

“At that stage of my career, it was impressed upon me that because a lot of orthopedics is based on mechanics and materials, I would gain a better appreciation of that aspect of orthopedics if I spent some focused research time in that area,” he says. “Studying biomedical engineering gave me an appreciation for an entirely new aspect of how complex orthopedics really is when it comes to implant materials and implant design and balancing materials and mechanics with Mother Nature’s mastery of biology.”

Conzemius holds several patents from his early work in biomedical engineering, including two for a canine elbow implant. In 2002, he received the Pfizer Award for Research Excellence. Three years after he joined the faculty of the College of Veterinary Medicine in 2006, the college received a $3 million gift from the Tata Group, a multinational company based in India, to create an endowment supporting small animal orthopedic surgery and establish the Tata Group Chair in Veterinary Orthopedic Surgery, which was awarded to Conzemius. Last year, he was honored by his alma mater as the 2016 recipient of the Stange Alumni Award for Meritorious Service from Iowa State University.

There is a lot more to being a clinician than just seeing cases. You have to grow as a clinician. You have to invest time in learning.

As a child growing up in Ames, Iowa, Conzemius always had a penchant for animals.

“One of my fondest memories is sitting on my father’s lap in a big rocking chair in the TV room on Sunday evenings watching ‘Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,’” he recalls. “Sunday dinner would be delayed so we could watch that show. At that time, I thought I wanted to be a crocodile wrestler or take care of wild animals. But through my veterinary studies, I developed a love for surgery.” He also developed a strong desire to reduce animal pain and suffering. 

Dr. Michael Conzemius injects stem cells into the knee joint of a dog suffering from arthritis.As part of a research study on osteoarthritis, Dr. Michael Conzemius injects stem cells into the knee joint of a dog suffering from arthritis.

In 2010, Conzemius became director of the Clinical Investigation Center (CIC), the arm of the Veterinary Medical Center that develops and facilitates clinical trials and translational research studies in the hope that they will lead to new drugs, procedures, devices, and treatments that benefit animals and people. He spends about 10 percent of his time leading the CIC, where acute and chronic pain in dogs and cats is his research focus.

“I’ve spent a lot of time developing outcome measures, so we can better study interventions for acute or chronic pain that can modulate or change the course of disease,” notes Conzemius, who continues to devote his energy to pain reduction in animals. 

“I don’t often share far-reaching goals because they may be unrealistic, but a far-reaching goal for me would be to develop the dog as a spontaneous, or naturally occurring, model of disease in people so we can advance veterinary care, advance human care, and limit animal use in preclinical studies,” he says.

When not in the surgical suites, working the hospital floor, or designing studies for the CIC, Conzemius can often be found outdoors enjoying activities like fishing, gardening, or going for a long walk on a beautiful day. While these activities renew his spirit, he says he draws his daily inspiration from his wife and two daughters.