CLEVELAND—The rubber industry is more than 100 years old and one of the oldest divisions of the American Chemical Society, according to Judit Puskas, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Akron.
She shared her thoughts during the recent Advanced Materials in Health Care Conference.
Many may assume most of the rubber industry is dedicated to tires, but that may not be the case. For instance, much of the Akron area, once dubbed the Rubber City, has various rubber processing companies, and “a lot of them are now over 50 percent producing for the health care industry,” Puskas said.
People do not realize it, she said. It is kind of hidden.
“I always say that if we invested as much money into health care, or use of rubber for health care, that we invested into tire technology, we would be way more ahead,” she said.
The health care industry is interdisciplinary. The different parts need to work together. One aspect that Puskas finds frustrating is the lack of federal funding that Milan Yager of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, addressed at the conference.
She referenced reviews she has received in which people say she wants to put a tire into the human body. The interdisciplinary is lost in between a rock and a hard place, she said, and “that is the problem.
“But I think we need more support and more focus on what we are doing. So advanced materials for health care, elastomers for health care and the Rubber Division is supporting this because they are supporting our lab. And hopefully, it'll just grow.”
Understanding may be a key element in getting people on board with elastomeric health care research.
“I think that we could (do more), and we should. And I struggle with this every day,” she said.
She noted that even officials at the University of Akron have told her rubber is old and the institution is trying to distance itself from it.
“So that is a constant struggle,” Puskas explained. “I think we have a long way to go.”
One idea she referenced is for scientists to start publishing content that “people can actually understand.
“Right now, you pick up a scientific publication, and I bet you most people don't understand. Sometimes, I don't even understand.”
Some researchers and scientists are chasing numbers, she said, and have 500 papers. It is a crazy system where students are working, and professors don't even know what they are doing. When people show that they have 500 papers, she said, you can't even read 500 papers, let alone write them.
“I always use the example that Einstein had 80 publications in his lifetime,” Puskas explained. “And those 80 publications made a big impact, obviously.”
Today, people have 500-1,000 publications.
“To me, this is not sustainable,” she added. “So there must be some change.”
Different parts of the industry should be coming together. Francis Papay of the Cleveland Clinic's Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Institute is a good example of that, Puskas said, because he is currently working with her lab. To be successful, it's necessary to assemble interdisciplinary teams. Working with medical doctors creates interaction. “I develop the material, I give it to him, and then he says no you have to change this way, you have to change that way. And that's an absolutely necessary discussion to have,” Puskas said
She praised the Rubber Division for hosting the health care conference because “there is a great deal of knowledge in the rubber industry that we can directly translate to medical applications and usages.”