Thomas Horbett, professor emeritus of bioengineering and chemical engineering, has received a 2018 Founder’s Award from the Society For Biomaterials (SFB). The Founder’s Award, one of SFB’s most prestigious, acknowledges long-term, landmark contributions to the discipline of biomaterials.

Dr. Horbett is one of the founding members of UW Bioengineering’s biomaterials research group. Starting in the 1970s, the group pioneered the study of compatibility between the body and synthetic materials. At the time, researchers were exploring the defining properties of biomaterials. They hypothesized that a key factor of biocompatibility was protein adsorption, or the process of proteins forming on the surface of a biomaterial after being immersed in biological fluid.

After earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry from UW in 1970,  Dr. Horbett joined Professor Emeritus Allan Hoffman’s lab as a senior fellow and became part of UW’s faculty in 1973. His work advanced the fields of protein adsorption and surface science. He has authored or co-authored over 150 publications and edited four books, including noteworthy texts Proteins at Interfaces I, II and III. He also contributed a chapter on protein adorsption for a major textbook, Biomaterials Science.

Dr. Horbett’s contributions to biomaterials research include:

  • Advancing the study of surfaces with high protein retention and non-fouling surfaces;
  • Establishing a justifiable methodology for I125 labelling;
  • Protein elution techniques;
  • Defining the relationships between adsorbed proteins and cell behavior at surfaces;
  • Identifying the importance of fibrinogen in blood compatibility;
  • Establishing the low level criterion for platelet activation by adsorbed fibrinogen;
  • Investigating smart polymers for insulin delivery.

Throughout his career, Dr. Horbett’s research yielded support from the National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies; his NIH grant, “Cell and Protein Reactions with Foreign Materials,” received 25 years of continuous funding. He worked with Buddy Ratner, fellow UW professor in bioengineering and chemical engineering, to establish the $40M National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center, University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials (UWEB). UWEB sought to develop new materials that integrate with the body to promote healing and that facilitate drug delivery. UWEB continued under NSF support for 12 years, and continues today as an independent research program under the leadership of Dr. Ratner.

Dr. Horbett is particularly recognized for his teaching of biomaterials science. His teaching was closely aligned with his own research, and that of other labs in the field. He integrated literature review, writing assignments, presentations and guest lectures into his courses, which helped his students establish strong knowledge of the field.

In his lifetime of academic service, Dr. Horbett has mentored numerous graduate students and senior fellows who became professors, researchers and industry leaders. He has also focused on communication and outreach to the scientific community, including chairing symposia for the American Chemical Society and the SFB.

As a recipient of the SFB Founders Award, Dr. Horbett will receive a $1,000 honorarium, and free registration, $500 travel support and up to four nights’ hotel stay for the 2018 SFB Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Ga. He is invited to submit a research or review manuscript to be considered for inclusion in the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research or Applied Biomaterials.

The SFB is a multidisciplinary society of academic, health care, governmental and business professionals. SFB members are dedicated to advancing all aspects of biomaterial science, education and professional standards to enhance human health and quality of life. Learn more about the Society for Biomaterials.