WOOSTER, Ohio—Polymer scientist Judit E. Puskas, who coinvented the coating on a heart stent implanted in millions of Americans, has joined The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
Puskas, who is also developing an innovative way to improve breast reconstruction after cancer surgery, was appointed a professor in CFAES’ Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the start of the year. A native of Hungary, she worked most recently at The University of Akron.
She will be based at the CFAES Wooster campus, where she will specialize in green polymer chemistry and biomaterials. She will also be a member of Ohio State’s newly created Sustainability Institute.
“I’m very happy to be here. I’ve already started to move my lab and grants, submitted two proposals, and participated in three proposals as a collaborator, including a European Union proposal,” Puskas said.
“Ohio State has great opportunities,” she added. “It’s living up to its reputation as being ranked 71st (by UK-based Times Higher Education magazine) among the 1,000 top universities globally—ahead of the Sorbonne in Paris.”
Eco-friendly rubber and plastic
Green polymer chemistry, in simple terms, aims to make rubbers, plastics, and similar materials using environmentally friendly, or “green,” practices. Among those practices are minimizing the use of hazardous substances, or not using any at all, and making sure the new materials can be composted after use. Less plastic waste in the oceans is just one of the possible benefits.
Biomaterials, generally speaking, are materials used in medical devices implanted in the body. Examples of those devices include heart valves, joint replacements, and even contact lenses.
New breast implant coating
Puskas, among other efforts, is trying to develop a new breast implant coating that would also deliver cancer drugs—research she will continue with CFAES. The goal, she said, is twofold.
First, the new coated implant aims to cause less of an inflammatory response within the body. That’s important, Puskas said, because with current implants, the body’s inflammatory response leads to capsular contracture—scar tissue forming around an implant—which is the No. 1 side effect when implants are used after cancer surgery.
Second, the new implant, through a sustained-release process, would deliver cancer drugs directly at the site of the cancer, ideally making the drugs more effective and less toxic.
The project’s success, Puskas said, would “radically improve the quality of life for breast cancer patients.”
Rubber from dandelions
Puskas’ expertise also will bolster CFAES’ ongoing effort to turn a unique dandelion species into an alternative source of rubber.
“Her work in biopolymers is a great complement to my work in domestic rubber development,” said Katrina Cornish, the leader of that effort, who is the Endowed Chair in Bio-based Emergent Materials with CFAES and an Ohio Research Scholar. “She brings deep polymer chemistry and engineering skills to the Wooster campus, which we’ve been lacking, and so really strengthens our materials team.”
Puskas also brings with her an established research laboratory with six members and support including a U.S. Department of Energy grant to develop more fuel-efficient tires and a National Science Foundation matching grant to create a sustainable university-based “innovation ecosystem.”
Innovation ecosystem is a term used to describe the many and diverse participants—university scientists, entrepreneurs, investors, industry, and others—needed to move an invention from discovery to commercialization.
“I’m proposing to transfer the sustainable innovation ecosystem that I’ve already created and expand it with Ohio State’s help,” Puskas said. “The focus will be at the interface of biology and material science.”
However, she said, “We will also continue to work with industry on more commercial-related projects that could finance fundamental research.”
Puskas previously helped invent the polymer used in the Taxus-brand drug-coated coronary stent, made by Boston Scientific Co., which, since its approval in 2004, has been implanted in more than 6 million patients in the United States alone. With first-year sales of more than $3 billion, it is considered the most successful medical device ever launched.
Safer rubber bullet
She is also the inventor of a safer rubber bullet used by law enforcement. Made from an energy-absorbing type of rubber, the bullet impacts but doesn’t penetrate human tissue, as other rubber and plastic bullets may do, so is less likely to cause a fatality.
Now licensed and manufactured by Canada-based Lamperd Less Lethal Inc., the improved rubber bullet can be used, for example, for crowd control and for preventing so-called “suicide by cop.” That’s when a suicidal person threatens one or more police officers with the intent to provoke them to shoot.
In addition, Puskas said she and her partners in a startup called Polyballistics are developing a new version of the bullet set to be manufactured in Ohio soon.
Puskas holds a PhD in plastics and rubber technology from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and is the first and so far only woman to receive the Charles Goodyear Medal, the highest honor given by the American Chemical Society’s 3,000-member Rubber Division.
Named for the discoverer of the vulcanization process for rubber, the Goodyear medal recognizes individuals who have made “repeated innovative contributions to rubber technology,” its website says.
New Ohio jobs
Cornish said Puskas’ research could bring more polymer jobs to northeast Ohio.
It could also earn green for the Scarlet and Gray.
“I have two more inventions close to commercialization that could generate revenues for Ohio State,” Puskas said.
Going forward, “I have plans to generate inventions with commercial potential for Ohio State.”