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Canadian biomedical engineering pioneer receives international award


Hamilton, ON – Countless individuals around the world are alive because of him. His 40 plus years of research have helped to make the use of life-saving devices such as prosthetic heart valves, vascular stents, vascular grafts, heart-assist devices, and heart-lung bypass systems almost commonplace. In the process, he has helped to establish Canada as a biomaterials leader.

John Brash, PEng, director of the School of Biomedical Engineering at McMaster University, and distinguished university professor, was recognized this week for these contributions with the presentation of the Founders Award by the Society for Biomaterials at its annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

“I am honoured and humbled to receive this award given the calibre of past recipients,” said Dr Brash. “It was a surprise when I was notified of the award. Much of the recognition must be shared with the numerous colleagues, peers, and students I have been fortunate to have worked with over the years.”

Dr Brash is only the second Canadian to receive this award, of which just 14 have been presented since it was established in 1987. Michael Sefton, university professor of chemical engineering and applied chemistry, University of Toronto, received the award in 2008. Selection for a Founders Award is based on long-term, landmark contributions to the discipline of biomaterials.

“His research program was and has remained the benchmark for explaining much of what we know of how cells ultimately recognize surfaces and signal themselves and other cells to initiate new tissue growth in the vicinity of biomaterials,” said Paul Santerre, director of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto. “It is the first principles of protein adsorption that today guide us in regards to rational polymeric material design in a field that is still growing at a rapid pace.”

Dr Brash is internationally regarded for his work in at least three major areas: protein adsorption and blood compatibility, particularly as it relates to blood proteins and thrombus formation on artificial surfaces; biocompatible polyurethane based materials; and surface modification.

“His seminal literature contributions have guided the work of countless biomaterials scientists, including me,” said Heather Sheardown, associate professor of chemical engineering at McMaster. “Another of John’s important contributions is in the training of a new generation of biomaterials scientists who have gone on to work in academia and industry, continuing to advance the field and carrying with them a passion ignited during their time in the Brash lab.”

Discoveries by Dr Brash can be found in some of Canada’s most successful biomedical companies including Interface Biologics of Toronto and Angiotech in Vancouver.

“The latter part of the 80s and early 90s ushered in the concept of designing biomaterials that were pro-active in their interaction with proteins and cells,” explains Dr Santerre, who is also chief scientific officer and co-founder of Interface Biologics. “John’s program in polyurethane research was among the first to build-in functional monomers that would capitalize on simulating the natural mechanisms of anti-coagulant function. Today, the bioactive concept is revolutionizing medical devices by merging the biopharmaceutical field and medical device sector to deliver implant therapies that accelerate healing associated with serious diseases.”

Dr Brash joined McMaster in 1972 from Stanford Research Institute, which he had joined in 1964 after a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the National Research Council. He received his BSc in 1958 and PhD in 1961 in applied chemistry from the University of Glasgow. He served as chair of the department of chemical engineering at McMaster from 1997 to 2000.