Campus & Community — 28 February 2014
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The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Tooth

By Nancy Grossbart

You may find yourself asking what teeth and The Six Million Dollar Man have in common. Read on to find out.

In 1972, biomedical engineering research professor Larry Hench lived in Gainesville, just a few blocks from author Martin Caidin. That was the year that Caidin published the book “Cyborg” which would later be the basis for the television series “The Six Million Dollar Man”.

Our Dr. Hench and Martin Caidin had a lot in common. Dr. Hench had recently created bioglass, the first material to bond to soft tissue without an inflammation response. Caidin created a man (and then a woman) who were “repaired” from serious injuries by creating bionic body parts which were connected to tissue. The similarity in their interests resulted in a many year friendship.

biomedical engineering research

Professor Larry Hench

I became interested in Dr. Hench when I first read the press release about his becoming a new faculty member. It talked about how he created bioglass, the first man-made material to bond with living tissues. I wanted to learn more about it so I went to his lecture “Spare Body Parts” last fall. He shared the story of how it was developed and included the story about his relationship with Caidin and “The Six Million Dollar Man”. I grew up with that show and was always fascinated at the ability to combine man and machine.

There’s a “Healthcare Revolution” he said, and we are in the era where medical breakthroughs are needed that focus on the “prevention of tissue loss”. As the body’s ability to repair itself decreases with age, agents like bioglass are able to help soft tissue and bone repair themselves. Continued biomedical engineering research and utilization of these agents is critical.

So, where’s the part about teeth?

Dr. Hench then went on to talk about a particular usage of bioglass that I really understood. Teeth. He said that Sensodyne, the toothpaste manufacturer, has started using it in one their products. It’s not available in the US yet, but Sensodyne says it “builds a layer (of bioglass) over exposed dentin” to eliminate the pain of dentine hypersensitivity. Dr. Hench said that he uses it himself and has had tremendous improvement.

Of course, my next move was … the internet. Where in the world could I find this toothpaste? The UK? Ugh? I was not daunted. I contacted my friend in the UK to send me some. It arrived last week and I started brushing with it immediately. I have this vision that my teeth will become bionic and never need dental work again. I’m sure that is wishful thinking.

I’ll let you know if it worked.

P.S. Don’t forget you could get a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering, master’s in biomedical engineering or Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, right here at Florida Tech.

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Nancy Grossbart

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