July 28, 2015
A highly specialized journal can accelerate the field which it is dedicated to – says Professor Larry Hench, a scientist who revolutionized regenerative medicine by creating the first man-made material to bond with living tissues, the bio-active glass.
After discussing the need for new, highly specialized open access journals with the example of De Gruyter Open’s portfolio in mathematics, I am returning to this problem with Prof. Larry Hench. Recently, De Gruyter Open has launched the Biomedical Glasses journal, devoted exclusively to the field started by Prof. Hench. The goal is to provide a forum for the publication of papers related to all aspects of biomedical glasses, from material development to their applications in medicine and dentistry. Why does the scientific community need this kind of journal? Are broad scope biomedical journals not enough? I am pleased to present the interview with Larry Hench about the field he started and about why it needs a new journal.
You invented, together with your colleagues, a completely new material called bio-active glass in the late 60s. Could you tell me briefly what bio-active glasses are and how they are used today?
Bio-active glasses are unique amorphous compositions of silicon, calcium, phosphorus and sodium oxides, which are not recognized as foreign material by the human body. Regenerative bone cells “see” the bioactive glass as a newly mineralizing bone, and as a result, the new bone bonds to the bioactive-glass.
Now, bioactive glasses are used most importantly not to directly replace parts of the body (which was the original objective and this application was approved by government regulatory in 1980s), but as a synthetic bone graft, to turn the body on to repair itself. Thus, bioactive glass fits now in the category of regenerative medicine, and has been used in bodies of millions of people around the world to support bone regeneration. Bio-active glasses are now sold as variety of products in more than 80 countries.
Is the level of research on bio-active glasses growing? In your opinion, what are the most promising developments in the field?
It is one aspect of the rapidly growing field of regenerative medicine. Now we know the genetic basis of bone regeneration stimulated by bioactive glass, which triggered new research on clinical use of bio-active glasses employing this knowledge.
The new important research direction is, in my opinion, extending regeneration capabilities to include soft connecting tissues and cardiovascular tissues. This requires a general theory of regenerative stimulation of connective tissues. We are well one the way toward such a general theory.
You wrote the opening paper for Biomedical Glasses, the journal recently launched by De Gruyter Open. Do you think this kind of journal is necessary, since other journals dedicated to a broader field of biomaterials already exist? Do you think that the community of researchers working on bio-active glasses needs a separate journal?
I hope that this new journal can be a home for new directions of research on bio-glasses, which do not really fit well to most existing journals. I believe very strongly that this new journal may be an accelerator for the field. It is because the process of development of a new biomaterial, or even application of an existing material in new clinical directions, is a long, complicated and expensive process. It involves making the material, characterizing the material, pre-clinical animal testing, early stage clinical testing, comparative studies with other existing materials, clinical results, particularly case histories and, eventually, long term clinical results. At the present time, results from these different stages are published in hundreds of different journals, so it is very hard for researchers to keep up. This is a big obstacle particularly for the younger researchers. Having one journal that will cover all of these topics can accelerate the field, because it will make it possible to get up to date quickly.
Another problem is that, since more than 1000 articles about bio-active glasses are published yearly in several hundreds of journals, it is impossible not only to find them all, but to read them all. So we need to rely on review papers. Sometimes reviews are written with bias, related to the journal they are written for. Each journal editorial board wants to keep emphasis on their particular area of expertise.
Finally, in such a growing field, like bio-active glasses, not every paper represents a final study, supported with a lot of significant statistics etc. Some important papers present very new directions of research and are short and exploratory. It is very important for the field to have new ideas published quickly in short, exploratory papers that go straight to the point. I am impressed by the journal editor, Professor Aldo Boccaccini, who recognizes the importance of early stage research, which does not often appear in existing journals. Of course, the work has to be of high quality also, and this is a tough challenge for the editorial board to judge the quality of an exploratory study, but it is very important to have such contributions. We need to know about useful materials which are on early stage of development. Finding this balance between novelty and quality of published work will be an important factor of success for the new journal
Biomedical Glasses is an open access journal. Who may benefit from open access articles about bio-active glasses?
If the journal succeeds in providing the complete spectrum of findings from material characterization to the clinical use, then various companies, engineers, scientists and medical doctors will routinely relay on it, and it has a chance to become the primary window of observation into the field. It will be wonderful to have this window easily accessible and open.
Thank you very much!