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Towler Named Second Inamori Professor at Alfred (posted 10/30/09)

October 30, 2009
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Towler’s work focuses on developing glass and ceramic materials for medical applications, such as spinal fracture repair.

Mark R. Towler, Ph.D., a researcher in biomedical materials, is the newest Inamori Professor in the Kazuo Inamori School of Engineering at Alfred University (AU). “We are delighted to have a researcher and educator of Dr. Towler’s caliber join our faculty,” said Doreen Edwards, Ph.D., dean of the Inamori School of Engineering. “Dr. Towler brings to us an extensive and varied background; in addition to being a teacher and researcher, he is an entrepreneur who has spun off two start-up companies from his research.”

Alfred University created the endowed professorships, which are earmarked for leading materials science researchers, when the Kyocera Corp. gave the university a $10 million gift to endow the School of Engineering. The school, and the four professorships that will be supported by the endowment, are named in honor of Kazuo Inamori, the founder of Kyocera.

“Our pledge to the Kyocera Corporation and Dr. Inamori was that we would use the income from the endowment their gift created to hire top researchers in materials science, particularly in the areas of nanotechnology and biomedical materials,” said Charles M. Edmondson, Ph.D., president of Alfred University.

“With the appointment of Professor Towler, we have made another a significant step toward fulfilling our commitment to the Kyocera Corporation,” said William Hall, Ph.D., acting provost. “We told them the funds would be used to support truly outstanding researchers and educators in nanomaterials and biomedical materials, and we believe we have found one in Professor Towler.”

“Alfred has a very good reputation in glass and ceramics,” said Towler, but the real attraction was the opportunity to help build its program in biomedical materials engineering science (BMES). AU offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical materials, as well as a doctorate in materials science with a focus on biomedical materials.

Towler’s work focuses on developing glass and ceramic materials for medical applications. One area involves the development of materials specifically to repair spinal fractures. While there are several new surgical procedures to repair vertebrae, Towler says there is a “gap in the market. There is no material designed specifically for that purpose” to encourage the vertebrae to, in effect, heal themselves through new bone growth.

In a related area, since many compression fractures of the spine are related to osteoporosis (a loss of calcium in the bone that leads to weakening), Towler is working on a screening protocol that would lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment based on the application of a Raman laser beam that measures the presence of certain proteins in fingernails and uses them as an indication of the health of related proteins in bone. At present, the most accurate diagnostic tool is a bone density scan that uses X-rays.

Towler and his post-doctoral researchers are also investigating the use of drug eluting cements and fillers for bone repair, and developing coatings to discourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” in hospital settings. He is eager to form partnerships with both medical schools and industries in the U.S., something he was able to do in Ireland.

Towler earned a bachelor’s degree in polymer science from the University of Manchester (UK) Institute of Science and Technology, a master’s degree in materials engineering from the Department of Materials at the University of Liverpool (UK), and a doctorate in biomedical materials from Queen Mary College at the University of London. Prior to coming to Alfred, Towler was senior lecturer and head of the clinical materials unit at the Materials and Surface Sciences Institute, University of Limerick, Ireland. He had previously been a research scholar and lecturer at the institute, and he also spent two years as a research scientist at Advanced Healthcare Ltd., Kent, UK.

The first Inamori Professorship is held by Scott Misture, Ph.D., professor of materials science and an alumnus of Alfred University. For additional information, visit www.alfred.edu.

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