Inventor of NOVOFIL-first elastic suture, POLYSORB-absorbable medical staples, and endoscopic surgical equipment.
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
Former President and Chief Operating Officer, Protein Polymer Technologies, Inc.
Favorite Adelphi professor: Dr. Fred Bettleheim
Advice to new Adelphi graduates: ”Stay flexible.”
Inventor of: NOVOFIL-first elastic suture, POLYSORB-absorbable medical staples, and endoscopic surgical equipment.
The Power of Polymers!
When Donald Kaplan Ph.D. ’73 underwent endoscopic knee surgery, he not only knew his surgeon, but he also knew when and how the surgical equipment used was invented and popularized.
In his thirty-eight year career in materials science, Dr. Kaplan has applied his knowledge of polymers to developing breakthrough medical products and procedures.
Dr. Kaplan started his Ph.D. at Adelphi in 1969, after earning a B.S. in chemistry at Farleigh Dickinson University. He had been looking for a doctoral program in the New York area, as his wife was teaching in Queens, and he found a great match in Adelphi’s chemistry department.
Today, Dr. Kaplan still recalls his first weekly seminar, where a student’s presentation on radiation chemistry was publicly deemed below university standards. Duly intimidated, he questioned his own abilities. He found, though, that with the teaching and mentorship of terrific professors he was well-prepared for his own presentation on polymer chemistry, an experience he credits as the beginning of a long and fulfilling career.
Dr. Kaplan left Adelphi in 1972 with a Ph.D. and an undefined interest in materials sciences and polymer applications. With his wife and four-week old son, he drove his Volkswagen Beetle along Route 66 to Pasadena to begin a postdoctoral position at The California Institute of Technology. The first of several trips between the East and West Coasts for the family: Mr. Kaplan’s domestic travels reflect the rapid progression of his career in material sciences.
Having completed his fellowship in California, Dr. Kaplan again packed his family into the trusty Beetle and drove east to Philadelphia, where he had taken a job as a chemist for Rohm & Haas Company. His first ‘real job’ in polymer technology involved the development of impact resistant, or bullet-proof, plastics.
Dr. Kaplan brought this experience and knowledge with him when he joined Davis & Geck, a division of American Cyanamid one year later in 1974. Here, he was introduced to the medical applications of the growing material sciences industry, a move that would guide the rest of his career. As a manager in research and development, he helped to invent the first elastic suture, NOVOFIL, which is still used today. His work on a new surgical scrub sponge helped to raise awareness of the prevalence of bacteria, and iodine’s ineffectiveness at sanitizing surgeries.
After four years on the East Coast, Dr. Kaplan again relocated, although without the customary Beetle, and joined ORMCO, a division of American Hospital Supply, as vice president of research and development. Under his leadership, ORMCO generated several new orthodontic appliances, perhaps most notably invisible braces. Such cosmetic applications proved to be an ideal growth opportunity for polymer technologies.
After a few years in California, Dr. Kaplan returned to Connecticut as vice president and later, senior vice president of United States Surgical Corporation. In his 15 year tenure with U.S. Surgical, he invented the first absorbable staple, Polysorb, for wound closure, and his engineering department revolutionized endoscopic surgery by redesigning surgical equipment. Such widely adopted innovations transformed surgical medicine, and Dr. Kaplan’s career grew more involved in educational programs to train surgeons on the new equipment, and drastically altered the medical industry by exploring the potential of advertising medical procedure and practice directly to consumers. By the time he left U.S. Surgical in 1995, he had contributed to the transition of a young, small firm into an industry leader, which ultimately resulted in TYCO’s takeover of U.S. Surgical.
Dr. Kaplan returned to California with planning to retire and take up part-time consulting. But opportunity stood in the way. In 2004 he became president and COO of Protein Polymer Technologies, Inc. He guided the bio-medical start-up through a critical round of funding and research needs. PPTI is developing several medical applications, currently in clinical tests, for synthetic proteins. Among the most innovative is a unique new approach to spinal disc replacement, which promises to alter the treatment of back injuries and pain.
Dr. Kaplan finally considers himself semi-retired. Apart from pursuing some venture capitalism opportunities, he enjoys spending time with his three children, playing tennis and dabbling in photography. He lives in Ranch Santa Fe, California, with his wife Ilene, and is proudest of his family and the continued use of several of his medical device inventions.
His advice to current Adelphi students: “Stay flexible. When I got my Ph.D., I had no clue about my future career.”
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