Dr. Reuben Mapletoft. Photo: Myrna MacDonald.

Mapletoft a "victim of serendipity"

Around the world, generations of cattle have been born in the past 40 years — thanks to a career choice that Dr. Reuben Mapletoft made when he was seven years old.

His decision to become a veterinarian was largely the result of watching his father and grandfather treat sick animals in their community near Lloydminster, Sask.

"Every farmer in the countryside knew that my dad was handy, and I remember my mom trying to run him down because we'd have a cow calving, and he'd be out helping someone else," Mapletoft recalls.

Mapletoft retired from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) on June 30, and his distinguished career in veterinary medicine is a testament to those early influences. Mapletoft became not only a veterinarian but also someone who shared his expertise with others, just as his father and grandfather had done.

A renowned researcher, often described as a pioneer in the development of assisted reproductive technologies, Mapletoft has had a major impact on cattle genetics around the world. He is most recognized for his research that laid the foundation for embryo transfer by developing the capability to trigger superovulation in cattle using hormones that induce several ovulations in each cycle.

In conjunction with those findings, Mapletoft is also noted for using ultrasonographic observations as a means to discern methods for manipulating ovarian function and inducing superovulation and estrus synchronization.

Mapletoft's interest in reproduction originated with his father — one of the first Canadian farmers to import Simmental cattle in the early 1970s. Shortly after graduating from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1967, Mapletoft took a job with the University of Pretoria's Faculty of Veterinary Science (Onderstepoort) — a post that focused on reproduction and further developed that interest.

After three years, he relocated to the University of Wisconsin where he completed Master of Science and PhD degrees while conducting research that would prove vital  in his studies on superovulation, estrus synchronization and embryo transfer.

In 1977, Mapletoft joined the WCVM where he became director of clinical research – an opportunity to foster research activity in the clinical department where faculty were just beginning to initiate their research programs.

That position led naturally into graduate student training, an aspect of his career that has given Mapletoft great satisfaction.

"I've really enjoyed working with graduate students and seeing them succeed. Boy, I just experience my success over again when I see what my graduate students have done. That's been really exciting for me."

Mapletoft also takes pride in his work with his WCVM colleague, Dr. Albert Barth, to establish the Reproduction Research Trust in 1979. This collaborative initiative which included the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan's Department of Agriculture and producer groups  delivered services in the areas of male fertility and embryo transfer while providing continuing education and graduate student training. Over six years, 13 graduate students completed their advanced degrees while working under the trust.

The WCVM researchers quickly gained a reputation as innovators. For example, after introducing their culling procedures at the Lloydminster Bull Sale in 1977, the WCVM team were kept busy examining bulls at sales across Western Canada. They also introduced embryo freezing and instituted the region's first on-farm embryo freezing service.

"We worked in both clinics and the field and tried to involve the practitioners around the countryside as much as possible," explains Mapletoft. "Over the years, we learned a lot of innovative ways to finance different projects. All of the money that we generated doing bull evaluations and embryo transfer services went back into the trust to finance graduate student training and research."

During its six-year existence, the trust contributed more than $250,000 to graduate student training and supported research dealing with domestic livestock and wildlife involving male and female reproduction.

Mapletoft has continued to facilitate workshops that benefit practitioners as well as the graduate students who participate as part of their training.

"We've been doing embryo transfer workshops since 1980," says Mapletoft. "I've always felt that it was my responsibility to extend this information to veterinarians and producers – the people that were, in fact, paying my salary. It was something that I owed the taxpayer."

Mapletoft has also travelled extensively, lecturing and participating in conferences throughout the world. He has been an active member of the International Embryo Transfer Society (IETS) and served as its president in 1980.

During his 10-year position as chair of the IETS Import/Export Committee, Mapletoft led a delegation to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) in Paris. He is proud of his involvement in drafting the international guidelines for importing and exporting bovine embryos, guidelines that are now included in the OIE's Terrestrial Animal Health Code.

Mapletoft has also been involved with the Canadian Embryo Transfer Association (CETA/ACTE) and was its founding president in 1984. He was instrumental in setting up their certification program for embryo transfer practitioners and continues to serve on its Certification Committee.

While Mapletoft has received many awards, particular accolades stand out for him.

"Being awarded the Earned Doctorate by the University of Saskatchewan in 2005 was special – I'm now an alumnus just like the rest of my family," says Mapletoft. "The Saskatchewan Award of Merit is also a big deal to a farm boy from Saskatchewan. And because I appreciate having my peers recognize me in the various areas that I've worked, the Pioneer Award and the Distinguished Service Awards from the IETS are important to me as well."

Mapletoft looks forward to travelling with his wife Janet and spending time with family. Both he and Janet are enjoying their new granddaughter and are very proud of their sons, John and David.

But Mapletoft also hopes to continue his involvement with veterinary medicine by speaking at conferences and carrying on his work with organizations such as IETS, CETA and the U of S Reproductive Science and Medicine Group.

As he looks back on his career, Mapletoft reflects that his research was an evolutionary process that involved just moving from one problem to the next, learning something from one situation and building on it in the next.

While he describes himself as a "victim of serendipity," Mapletoft is gratified that he was able to make a difference.

"We figured out innovative ways to support and continue our research, and we put the embryo transfer procedures out to the everyday practitioner, removing the secrecy associated with those technologies. Those were important things that we did, and those are the accomplishments that stand out for me."
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