Orland Bethel Family Musculoskeletal Research Center //

Orland Bethel’s Story

Orland Bethel

Born in southeast Ohio and raised on a dairy farm, Orland Bethel borrowed $4,000 from his parents and in-laws to start an egg production and distribution company, Hillandale Farms, in 1958. After decades of hard work, he built the company into an industry leader.

In 2014, Bethel was dealing with spinal stenosis, a condition that causes the narrowing and squeezing of the nerves and spinal cord, causing pain and other symptoms. He consulted six orthopaedic surgeons but wanted to avoid the invasive procedure they recommended.

Joon Y. Lee, professor of orthopaedic surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, associate program director and clinical director of the Ferguson Laboratory, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, was able to address Bethel’s problem with a minimally invasive approach, following it a few years later with another spinal operation for a subsequent problem.

In appreciation, Bethel and his foundation created the Orland Bethel Professorship in Spine Surgery, which Lee now holds.

On Oct. 4, 2023, the University announced his $25 million gift, which will lead to the creation of the Orland Bethel Family Musculoskeletal Research Center. The School of Medicine will coinvest equally with the foundation. The center, part of the Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery and of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, will occupy an entire floor of lab and research space in the Biomedical Science Tower 2 research facility.

The new center—expected to open in 2024—will provide multi-year commitments to support such areas as:

  • Understanding molecular, genetic and biological mechanisms in spine-related diseases
  • Understanding the influence of gender and age on disease and recovery from musculoskeletal disorders
  • Developing therapies for osteoarthritis
  • Using stem cells to repair and recover from peripheral nerve injuries
  • Applying machine learning algorithms for orthopaedic issues

The gift launches an array of programs under the new center’s umbrella, including the BMRC Core Laboratories, Bethel Research Fellows and an annual conference and seminar where scientists will share their work and discover new opportunities for collaboration. Among the participating entities in the center are the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the School of Medicine, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, the Department of Bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, and the Pittsburgh Center for Pain Research.

Half of the gift is to be used immediately, with the remainder scheduled to launch an endowment to support the initiative in perpetuity.

Visit the UPMC website to learn more about Bethel’s story.

Discover more about the BMRC.