Endre A. Balazs, MD
Pioneer in Viscoelastic Therapeutics
Leader in Hyaluronan and Vitreous Research
BIOGRAPHY Endre A. Balazs, MD, was a world leader in ophthalmic biochemistry and also a developer of products that have become extremely important and widely used in eye surgery. Among many talented and famous alumni of what is now Schepens Eye Research Institute, Dr. Balazs occupies a central role as the real builder of the Institute and, at the time, recruiter of much of its faculty.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, he earned his medical degree at the University of Budapest in 1942. As a result of Hungary’s political upheaval after the war, he left for Sweden in 1947 where he joined the Department of Experimental Histology at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm. There he continued his work on carbohydrate chemistry, particularly hyaluronan.
In Boston, Dr. Charles Schepens, who had arrived from Belgium in 1947, had started a retinal detachment surgery practice at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. He had the vision of creating an “institute” for retina research and he succeeded in recruiting Dr. Balazs to Boston in 1950 as the leader and builder of the research effort. Dr. Balazs brought together many talented individuals in what was then called the “Retina Foundation.”
In the 1960s, with space running out, a new institute (the present) was built. Here it was Dr. Balazs who was the undisputed leader and developer and the result was our magnificent research institute, where biology and biochemistry occupied about half the space and ophthalmic bioengineering the rest.
During these years Dr. Balazs’ work became more focused on vitreous replacement, particularly with hyaluronan, a carbohydrate macromolecule which is found in many tissues but particularly in the vitreous. This led to the development and purification of high-molecular hyaluronan for medical purposes. The compound was later marketed as a viscoelastic product, “Healon.” When used during eye surgery, Healon provides unique protection to the eye tissues and it has since been used to an extraordinary extent. Practically all present cataract surgery worldwide includes the use of a viscoelastic.
Regrettably for the Institute and for Harvard, in 1975 Dr. Balazs was recruited to New York City’s Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital as their Director of Ophthalmic Research. He served as the Malcolm P. Aldrich Research Professor, Emeritus.
Dr. Balazs had visions of wider applications of hyaluronan in medicine, e.g. for arthritic joints. In 1969, he founded Biotrics, Inc. and in 1981, he co-founded Biomatrix, Inc., where he as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Officer further expanded the medical applications of the substance. In 1999, Biomatrix was recognized by Fortune as one of the fastest growing companies in the US. In 2000, Biomatrix was sold to Genzyme, Inc.
Dr. Balazs then co-founded the Matrix Biology Institute, a philanthropic foundation dedicated to promoting research on hyaluronan. A most fitting way to phase out a brilliant scientific career!
Biography written by Claes H. Dohlman, MD, PhD
- Endre A. Balazs, Doctor Who Found a Lubricant for Arthritic Knees, Dies at 95 (New York Times)
- Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research Recipient Dr. Endre Balazs (Helen Keller Foundation)