Canadian Biomedical Engineering Pioneer Receives International Award

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, P.Eng., director of the School of Biomedical Engineering at McMaster University, and distinguished university professor, was recognized for these contributions with the presentation of the Founders Award by the Society for Biomaterials on April 22 in San Antonio, Texas.

“I am honoured and humbled to receive this award given the calibre of past recipients,” said Prof. 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.”

Prof. 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.

“John has been a leading member of the world’s biomaterials community for many years,” said Michael Sefton, past-president of the Society for Biomaterials and chair of the awards committee. “His seminal contributions to our understanding of the behaviour of proteins at interfaces and to the use of polyurethanes in medicine have been among the most important and long-standing contributions to the science of biomaterials.”

Prof. 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 literature contributions have guided the work of countless biomaterials scientists,” 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.”

Prof. Brash has trained some 50 Masters, PhDs and postdoctoral fellows. He is also called on to consult with numerous biomaterials-related companies.

“Dr. Brash, whether interacting with fellow chemical engineers, biomaterials scientists or clinicians, has had a significant influence on the evolution of the field of biomaterials,” said Stuart Cooper, professor and chair of the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering, at Ohio State University.

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

Abbreviated Biography:

Prof. 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 of Canada. He received his B.Sc. 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.

Among the many recognitions bestowed on him, Prof. Brash received the Clemson Award for Basic Research from the Society for Biomaterials in 1994; was awarded an Honorary degree, Docteur Honoris Causa by the Universite Paris XIII (Paris Nord) in 1996; and received the R.S. Jane Memorial Award from the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering in 2006. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a Fellow of Biomaterials Science and Engineering. He served as president of the Canadian Biomaterials Society from 1986 to 1988.

Prof. Brash has co-authored several books and has been the lead author/presenter or co-author of more than 250 publications and over 300 conference presentations around the world. He holds or has held editorships of several academic journals, and has sat as a member of numerous government research committees.

In 2005, Prof. Brash’s article “Biomaterials in Canada: The First Four Decades” was published in a special edition of the international journal Biomaterials.

Gene Nakonechny

McMaster University

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