NASS Insider

January 30, 2024

2023 Leon Wiltse Award Winner Feature: Behrooz Akbarnia, MD

Each year, the North American Spine Society (NASS) recognizes exceptional contributions to the field and the Society through its annual Recognition Awards.

In 2023, Behrooz Akbarnia, MD was awarded the Leon Wilse Award for excellence in leadership and/or clinical research in spine care.

Nominations for 2024 Recognition Awards are now open at and will be accepted until March 31, 2024. Award winners are reviewed by the NASS Governance Committee and approved by the Board of Directors. 2024 awards will be presented at the 2024 NASS Annual Meeting, September 25-28, 2024 in Chicago, IL.

Note for 2024 nominations: The Governance Committee, in an effort to make nominations less arduous, have eliminated the requirement for formal letters of recommendation to be submitted at the time of nomination. Letters of recommendation will only be required once the Governance Committee has determined finalists for each award (in late-Spring 2024).

Dr. Akbarnia is a 34-Year NASS Member

Akbarnia graduated from Tehran University Medical School in 1966 and continued training in orthopedic surgery in the US. Dr. Akbarnia was Professor and Vice Chairman of Orthopaedic Surgery at St. Louis University for 10 years before relocating to San Diego in 1990. There, he established his academic practice under San Diego Center for Spinal Disorders Medical Group, created the San Diego Spine Fellowship Program, and founded both the San Diego Spine (SDSF) and the Growing Spine Foundations (GSF) to support collaborative academic activities to improve the quality of care for both adult and pediatric spine patient populations.

"I do not believe there are any individuals in the US more worthy of this award than Dr. Akbarnia," said Frank M. Phillips, MD, Rush University Medical Center’s Spine Surgery Director. "Dr. Akbarnia has been a leader in the field of spinal deformity for decades now. He has advanced the field over the course of his career and his innovations have led to improved treatments for complex spinal pathology."

In addition to SDSF’s Fellowship program, Dr. Akbarnia spearheaded a city-wide spine meeting in San Diego beginning in 1997 to bring the San Diego spine community together through an educational effort that would help to improve the care of patients with spinal conditions. Since then, dozens of internationally known spine surgeons have been guest speakers at this event, which evolved into SDSF’s Annual Visiting Professorship, which is now known as Bridging The Gap annual event.

Dr. Akbarnia’s most recent contributions have focused both on adult spine deformity and early onset scoliosis (EOS) and growing spine. Through Growing Spine Study Group (GSSG), establishing the International Congress on Early Onset Scoliosis (ICEOS), which is now in its 17th year, and publishing three editions of The Growing Spine textbook, he has significantly affected the lives of children with EOS worldwide. His most recent contribution is the development and popularization of a new magnetic device, MCGR, for young children with EOS, eliminating the need for multiple surgeries for lengthenings. His research comprises over 200 published papers, many book chapters, and many international presentations. In addition of being president and founder of SDSF, he is currently a Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at University of California, San Diego, and he is a past president of the Scoliosis Research Society, having received many awards and honors from that society.

Nominated by: Steven Garfin, MD