Themed collection for Michael Sefton’s 65th birthday

Nicholas Peppas (University of Texas) introduces our latest themed collection, put together in celebration of Michael Sefton’s 65th birthday.

I am delighted to express my thoughts on the occasion of this special collection in honor of Michael V. Sefton of the University of Toronto. Michael has been a friend for 44 years and has been a source of inspiration for several generations of biomaterials scientists, biomedical engineers, chemical engineers and polymer scientists.  He has been a leader in the fields of biomaterials, regenerative medicine and tissue engineering for the past 40 years.  Michael is recognized for seminal contributions to biomaterials science, regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, for development of novel methods for diabetes treatment and for visionary international leadership of the field of biomedical engineering.

Michael Sefton was born 65 years ago, on October 20, 1949, in London, United Kingdom. At a young age, the family left the UK and came to Canada where Michael, his brother and sister grew up in a loving family, always excelling. He entered the Chemical Engineering Department of the University of Toronto in 1967 and had the fortune to be educated by leading scientists in polymer science and artificial organs. This combination of the two areas led to his decision to pursue a graduate degree in chemical engineering, concentrating on biomaterials. So, we both arrived to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in August 1971 and we started working in the Chemical Engineering Department, he as a research assistant of Ken Smith, I as a volunteer in Ed Merrill’s laboratory. As all loyal students working on biomaterials those days did, we took courses such as 10.68 “Physical Chemistry of Polymers”, 10.64 “Structure and Properties of Polymers” and 10.69 “Polymerization Reactions”, along with 2.905 “Biomaterials” and the famous 10.56 “Chemical Engineering in Medicine”, the legendary course introduced to the curriculum 50 years ago by Ed Merrill and taught by his former PhD student (and our academic brother), the young Clark Colton.

Michael and I passed the qualifying examinations for the PhD in January 1972 (he, first in the class with a big difference in achievement grades from the rest of us) and we selected/were assigned immediately to do our PhD with Professor Edward Merrill (NAE, IOM, AAAS) who had a major NIH grant at that time. Michael’s PhD thesis was on hydroxylation of SBS block copolymers for biomedical applications. There were about ten of us in the lab including five who became professors and Dr Pat Wong, who was a postdoc in the lab and ended up becoming VP of ALZA Corp. That same period we were all glad to meet a young undergraduate from chemistry, David Tirrell (now member of NAS, NAE and IOM) who became a loyal laboratory assistant. We were also fortunate to have wonderful, internationally known teachers in graduate classes, professors such as Paul J. Flory (Nobel laureate, chemistry, 1974), Larry Peebles of ONR, James Mark of Cincinnati, Agienus Vrij of Utrecht University, Eric Baer of Case Western, Paul Rempp of Strasburg, Ioannis Yannas (IOM) of MIT, Eugene Stanley, Ed Saltzman of Harvard, George Whitesides, then at MIT, and so many others who taught us polymers, colloids, viscoelasticity and so many other subjects.

Michael Sefton graduated with a Ph.D. degree in 1974. His first paper was on the “Effect of stress transfer modified swelling on diffusion in polymers” and was published in Nature in 1975. He started as an Assistant Professor in Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario Canada, in 1974 and rose through the ranks to University Professor, a rare and distinct honor awarded only to very few. He has also served as Director of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto from 1999 to 2005.

Michael Sefton is an international leader in biomaterials, regenerative medicine and tissue engineering in the past 40 years. His contributions have impacted the field both in terms of fundamental understanding of the interplay between biology and materials, but also in terms of early commercialization of successful products. The impact of his work has been prominent in this $25 billion industry. He was one of the first in the world who succeeded in microencapsulating live cells. The combination of solvents and non-solvents has been uniquely successful. These encapsulated cells have had a significant impact in a variety of areas in medicine: e.g., diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, gene therapy. This work has also lead to “modular tissue engineering” which has the potential to dramatically alter the standard cell/scaffold paradigm of this field. He has been a pioneer in the development of novel heparinized and other non-thrombogenic biomaterials and has been a major proponent in the development of accurate biocompatibility testing of such biomaterials. Since 1980 he has been the leading scientist in the study of cell/polymer and tissue polymer interactions. His work has led to increased understanding of biomaterial response. Sefton has also studied the immune response of biomaterials.

Michael Sefton’s recognitions have been indicative of his impact to the field. In 2014 he received the Gold Medal Award from Engineers Canada, in 2011 he received the Acta Biomaterialia Gold Medal. In 2008 he was the recipient of the Killam Prize in   Engineering from the Canada Council for the Arts, 2008. In 2008 he received the Founders Award from the (US) Society for Biomaterials while in 1993 the Clemson Award for Basic Research from the same Society. The Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering recognized him with the RJ Janes Award (2012), which is the highest recognition for a ChE in Canada, the Century of Achievement Award (1998) as one of the 20 most distinguished Canadian chemical engineers of the 20th century) as well as with the Albright and Wilson Americas Award for distinguished contribution to chemical engineering before the age of 40. The University of Toronto named him University Professor in 2003, and the Royal Society of Canada elected him a Fellow in 2005. He was also elected a Fellow of AAAS in 2012, a Fellow of AIChE in 2004, a Fellow of AIMBE in 1997, a Fellow of SFB in 1994 and a Fellow of the Chemical Institute of Canada in 1993.  He has had 40 years of service to the scientific and technical world including President of the Society for Biomaterials (2005-2006), Program Chair of the 1996 World Biomaterials Congress, a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering (1991-1993) and member of the Board of Governors of the Controlled Release Society (1989-1992).

Michael Sefton has been a role model for several younger generations. He has graduated a large number of MS and PhD students. Many of them have become professors in academia. They include Milica Radisic and Alison MacGuigan of the University of Toronto, Ali Khademhosseini of Harvard Medical School, Julia Babensee of Georgia Tech, Theo Goosen of Alfaisal University, Jan Stegemann of the University of Michigan, William Stevenson of Wichita State, Maud Gorbet of the University of Waterloo, Kim Woodhouse of Queens University, Hasan Uludağ of the University of Alberta and many others. Many of these former students have contributed to this issue.

The papers included in this issue address a wide range of subjects that have been of particular interest to Michael, from the structure of biomaterials such as collagen and elastin to pharmacokinetics and drug delivery, from basics of biopolymer science to hemocompatibility and the future of biomaterials.
I join the former students and contributors of this volume in saluting Professor Michael V. Sefton for his far-reaching vision, his dedication to exceptional education and research, and his outstanding standards in conducting research and disseminating his work. As we go to press, we have learned that Mike Sefton has received a letter that he has been elected a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies (of the USA). The official announcement of his election is scheduled for October 20, 2014, the exact date of his 65th birthday! What a great coincidence!

Happy 65th birthday Michael.

Nicholas A. Peppas, Sc.D,
The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX
October 2, 2014
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