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In Memoriam: Dr. Endre A. Balazs

The entire University community is deeply saddened by the passing on August 29, 2015 of Dr. Endre A. Balazs, a generous benefactor and exemplar of scientific achievement.

It was thanks to his incredible largesse that in January of this year the School of Engineering became the home of the Biomatrix Research Center, located in a new state-of-the-art facility in Manhattan’s Health Corridor. The Center houses a research group overseen by Mary Cowman, Associate Dean for Bioengineering and Professor of Biochemistry and Bioengineering, who met Balazs as a postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory and was deeply inspired by his pioneering research on hyaluronan.

Balazs was born in Budapest in 1920, and he had a special bond with the field of engineering right from the start: until the Communist takeover of the country, his father, an engineer, oversaw the Budapest Waterworks. He attended the University of Budapest Medical School, graduating in 1942, and remained there to conduct research for several years. He was next affiliated with the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and in 1951 he moved to the U.S. to establish Harvard Medical School’s Retina Foundation. His many other prestigious posts include founder of the Boston Biomedical Research Institute, Director of Ophthalmology Research at Columbia-Presbyterian College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Malcolm P. Aldrich Research Professor Emeritus at Columbia.

Along with his wife, Dr. Janet Denlinger, he established a nonprofit research institute, the Matrix Biology Institute, which is devoted to the study of hyaluronan. This viscoelastic substance was discovered in the 1930s by Karl Meyer, a Columbia University scientist. Balazs purified hyaluronan so that it could be used therapeutically, found that rooster combs were a plentiful source of the raw material, and by the 1970s had described virtually every current and potential use of this molecule. Hyaluronan has been used to treat the symptoms of arthritis in tens of millions of patients and to protect the eyes of hundreds of millions of patients undergoing cataract surgery and intraocular lens replacement worldwide. These and other applications have made Balazs a towering figure in the world of biomedical research.

Instrumental in founding the International Society for Eye Research and the International Society for Hyaluronan Sciences, Balazs will be sorely missed by the many students he mentored and scientists he encouraged. Our sincere sympathy goes to Dr. Denlinger, who also worked with him for the last 40 years and with whom he founded Biomatrix, a biotechnology company; to his son, André, and his daughter, Marianne, who carries on his spirit of service as a fund-raiser for the developmentally disabled; and his grandchildren.

The Endre A. Balazs Foundation was established in 2000 to support hyaluronan research for a better understanding of the molecular structure, function and medical utility of the biomatrix between and surrounding cells, its regulatory role in cell functions, and its therapeutic potential. Consistent with this mission, the Foundation has focused since its inception on supporting scientific research to investigate the biological activity and medical uses of hyaluronan by supporting laboratory research, publication of research findings, and educating the scientific community and general public about hyaluronan.

The Endre A. Balazs Foundation is a non-profit 501c3 organization. Donations will support the Foundation in continuing this important work in his memory and are 100% tax-deductible in accordance with Federal regulations.