Thomas Web­ster, pro­fessor and chair of Northeastern’s Depart­ment of Chem­ical Engi­neering, has been named pres­i­dent of the U.S. Society for Bio­ma­te­rials. The 3,000-plus-member orga­ni­za­tion is the nation’s leading mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary society of aca­d­emic, health­care, gov­ern­ment, and busi­ness pro­fes­sionals ded­i­cated to pro­moting advance­ments in all aspects of bio­ma­te­rials sci­ence, edu­ca­tion, and pro­fes­sional stan­dards to enhance human health and quality of life.

Web­ster brings a wealth of research and exper­tise to this lead­er­ship role. His work involves devel­oping bio­log­i­cally com­pat­ible nanopar­ti­cles that can be applied to mate­rials that come into con­tact with human tissue. His bio­ma­te­rials can be used not only in place of tra­di­tional med­ical devices such as tita­nium hip implants or polymer-​​based vas­cular stents, they’re also applic­able to more inno­v­a­tive approaches such as tissue engi­neering using stem cells, as well as implantable and wear­able sen­sors.

Web­ster noted that researchers in sim­ilar soci­eties across the globe are pur­suing impor­tant and inno­v­a­tive work, and meet­ings between mem­bers in dif­ferent coun­tries often reveal fer­tile ground for col­lab­o­ra­tive research. Inter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tions, he said, are crit­ical to advancing this work and trans­lating that research to industry at both the national and global level. The problem is these soci­eties lack a uni­form voice to advo­cate for their gov­ern­ments to invest in such research partnerships.

In response, his first pri­ority since becoming pres­i­dent in April was to estab­lish a funding plat­form that pro­motes trans­la­tional research col­lab­o­ra­tions between the U.S. and China. The goal would be for the bio­ma­te­rials soci­eties in each country to secure funding from their respec­tive gov­ern­ments, which they would then use to offer grants to col­lab­o­ra­tive teams com­prising Chi­nese and Amer­ican researchers and industry partners. Under Webster’s plan, each pro­posal would fea­ture one researcher and one industry partner from each country involved.

The med­ical device field is one spe­cific area of research where the U.S. and China stand to ben­efit from col­lab­o­ra­tion. “We’re each suf­fering the same prob­lems,” Web­ster said. “We have huge num­bers of people who are set to retire—they need hip implants, knee implants, pace­makers. The same is true in China.”

One dif­fer­ence, he said, is the way the two health­care sys­tems work and greater income dis­par­i­ties within the two nations. Suc­cess­fully nav­i­gating the unique pri­or­i­ties of the dif­ferent coun­tries in a col­lab­o­ra­tion could have ben­e­fits for both.

If the model works, he hopes to take it to other nations such as India and Brazil, where bio­ma­te­rials research and devel­op­ment are equally promising.

As pres­i­dent, Web­ster also hopes to increase rep­re­sen­ta­tion of clin­ical per­sonnel in the society’s mem­ber­ship, which he said would help the field iden­tify the patient population’s most crit­ical needs.