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April 23rd, 2013

Hench recounts career ‘miracles’ that led to Bioglass discovery at Michigan/NW Ohio award dinner

Published on April 23rd, 2013 | By: Eileen De Guire

Larry Hench. Credit: ACerS.

Last Thursday Larry Hench (FACerS and Distinguished Life Member) was the guest of honor at the Michigan/Northwest Ohio Section and recipient of the Toledo Glass and Ceramics Award. The award was bestowed annually from 1956-1986, and after a 20-year hiatus, the section resurrected the award in 2006. Hench is emeritus professor of the University of Florida and of Imperial College London, and also holds positions at Florida Gulf Coast University, University of Central Florida, and Florida Institute of Technology.

The list of recipients over its 50+ year history is a “Who’s Who” of glass and ceramics leaders including such giants in the field as Alistair Pilkington, S.D. Stookey, Norbert Kreidl, Dominick Labino, Fay Tooley, Alfred Cooper, and more recently, Delbert Day, Prabhat Gupta, and Katherine Faber.

In his talk, “The story of Bioglass: From O-I to OR!,” Hench recounted the influences early in his career that led him to graduate school and to the study of glass. About 35 attended the event and many in the audience worked with Hench over the years, so the evening felt like an intimate gathering of friends.

He attributes his discovery of Bioglass to three “miracles.” The first of these was a chance encounter with an Army colonel who challenged him (as a representative of the scientific community) to “make a material that will survive exposure to the human body” that could be used to help the soldiers who were coming back from Vietnam with debilitating injuries. (At the time, Hench was researching the effects of radiation on glass.) The second “miracle” was receiving funding to study bioactive glasses from the Army’s medical funding branch. It was virtually unheard of for a principal investigator without a medical degree to get funded. The third “miracle” was his choice of the best Na2O-CaO-P2O5-SiO2 composition on the first try! Systematic testing of other compositions on the phase diagram showed that, ultimately, the ’45S5′ Bioglass bonded to bones faster and better than any other composition.

Hench refers to these three events as miracles, but he also admits, “You can never tell where basic science studies might go as far as applications.”

To this day, 45S5 is the composition most used for bioactive applications and is marketed by GlaxoSmithKline under the tradename NovaMin. It has been used for a wide range of applications, such as to construct delicate inner ear bones and rebuild roots of teeth. A new toothpaste, Sensodyne Repair and Protect, includes 45S5 and is effective for rebuilding tooth enamel and helping to halt periodontal disease. The toothpaste is readily available in Europe, but it is unclear whether or when it will be available in the US. (See the May ACerS Bulletin for a sidebar story about this toothpaste.)

Hench was engaging, funny, and enlightening. He also was clearly delighted with the award and to have his name added to the list of distinguished awardees.


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