When he was a boy, Dr. Martin King didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up, but he was certain he did not want to become a teacher.
“I had two parents and they were both teachers, I had a big sister and she became a teacher, and I had aunts who were also teachers,” he said. “So I said, there is no way I’m going to be a teacher.”
Fortunately for NC State, the burgeoning field of biotextiles, and many grateful students, he was wrong. King joined the Wilson College of Textiles in September of 2000 after nearly three decades working in Canada and Europe in industry, government and education. He currently heads his own biomedical textiles research group comprised of NC State graduate students working on cutting-edge research in the areas of implantable and surgical biotextiles, medical textiles and biotextiles for regenerative medicine, and is an adjunct professor at Clemson University, at Laval University in Quebec City and the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, and a chaired professor at Donghua University in Shanghai, China.
“Dr. King has devoted his career to building a world class biomedical research program incorporating a unique blend of advanced textiles and process techniques that spans multiple disciplines,” said Dr. Richard Padbury, an alumnus of both the Textile Engineering master’s program (‘12) and the Fiber and Polymer Science doctoral program (2014) and a senior polymer scientist with Lucideon, a materials testing, analysis and consultancy company. “Dr. King is mentoring and preparing the next generation of biomedical researchers, not just in the United States but globally.”
A Lifetime of Achievement
This May, King received the lifetime achievement award at international biomedical textiles conference MedTex17 in Shanghai. The biennial conference, which he has been instrumental in organizing for the past decade, gathers students, researchers, clinicians, delegates from the government and partners from the business, industry and medical fields to present and discuss new research.
“Martin King has achieved extraordinary success as an organizer with his novel contributions to the development of the biomedical textile materials field,” said conference organization chair Dr. Wang Lu in her congratulatory speech. “Our delegates…get together to evaluate the past and imagine the future for biomedical textile materials. In the past we have relied heavily on the hard work and unwavering effort of Martin King and his colleagues.”
King encouraged his graduate students to attend the conference, and several of them won awards of their own.
“I feel fortunate to work with Professor King as (he strives) hard to ensure his students attend conferences and get international research exposure,” said Radhika Vaid, Ph.D. candidate in fiber and polymer science and research assistant in Dr. King’s BMT group. “It was a great honor for our team seeing Professor King receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to biomedical textiles, as no one in the world is more capable for this award than him.” Vaid won the award for Outstanding Poster Presentation, along with fellow research assistant Yihan Huang.
For King, the conference is invaluable to the biotextiles field because each participant brings a different perspective, enriching the conversation and encouraging novel approaches to problem solving.
“What I really appreciate about this award is that it recognizes some of these issues that relate to implantable medical textiles, that we need to have different disciplines working together,” said King. “I guess that’s what I’ve tried to achieve with students; whether they come from an engineering background or from a surgery background or a microbiology background, I have gotten them to work together. That’s really my philosophy — to connect students with different expertise and backgrounds to work on the same problem, because they can learn that there isn’t just one way of looking at a problem.”
This interdisciplinary approach to problem solving is the impetus behind the MedTex conferences — and King’s career. He has been a pioneer in the field of biomaterials and biotextiles, a term he coined to describe textile materials with medical applications designed to be compatible with — and stable within — the human body.
“The textiles that we are designing for implantation, they have to go in a very aggressive biological environment, where there are all sorts of cells and proteins and enzymes and stuff that’s going to try to break them down as a material,” he said. “It’s a very demanding application, given that most of them need to last the life of the patient.”
King has spent the last 35 years of his life exploring biotextiles, including designing implantable devices, engineering new textile structures and polymers, creating novel surface coatings and sterilization methods, and investigating reasons for device failure.
“Martin’s research embodies the quest to understand the role of polymeric biomaterials, in the form of textile structures, in medicine,” said Dr. Tushar Ghosh, Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science (TECS) professor. “For more than 30 years he has pursued and led the development of the emerging interdisciplinary field of biotextiles with particular emphasis on implantable devices.”
Education and Career
King has long been in the vanguard of textile technology. In 1966, he became one of the first graduates in Polymer Technology from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, but due to the newness of the field, he had limited job prospects upon graduation.
“This was a very new degree at that time and employers in the UK did not know what polymer technology was or even that they needed to hire someone with that particular background and interest,” he said.
He took a position in Canada with Canadian Industries Limited, a chemicals manufacturer, and later joined Celanese Corporation, an international technology and specialty materials company, as a product development engineer. He later returned to the U.K. to work on the development of carbon fibers at what is now the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, then earned a certificate in polymer and fiber science from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the Université de Technologie de Compiègne in Compiègne, France. He has been a professor of biotextiles with COT at NC State for the past 17 years.
His teaching career began at the University of Manitoba in 1972, a position for which he did not feel particularly prepared.
“The first job I had was teaching textile economics — and I seriously had no idea what textile economics was about because I was a chemist,” he laughed. “I learned as long as you are a chapter ahead of the students, you’ll be fine.”
Now, King is not only teaching textiles, but advancing the science of the field. His research interests range from creating resorbable biomaterials like sutures and controlling infectious pathogens by developing probiotic wound treatments to generating tissue on biotextile scaffolds and making fibers from collagen and elastin. He has collaborated with fellow researchers and government and industry partners for years, working on projects around the globe.
“Dr. King is a splendid scientific collaborator and has a great ability to balance education and scholarship with on-the-ground practical multidisciplinary industrial innovations,” said Dr. Bob Dennis, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “His colleagues and students benefit greatly from this balance, as we also do from the fact that the scope of his interests in the development of textile technology for medical applications is extraordinary. And most importantly, he is a very good person.”
He has also worked closely with an area plastic surgeon to develop a unique medical device that eliminates the need for traditional surgical knots.
“He collaborated with me and the company I founded, Quill Medical, beginning about 15 years ago,” said Dr. Gregory Ruff. “He and his laboratory helped refine the parameters which make our novel product, barbed sutures, more effective both in closing wounds and lifting faces, necks and breasts. Dr. King’s work is thorough and reliable and his valuable insights reflect his vast trove of experience with fibers. And, as I’m sure you know, he is the consummate gentleman and scholar and I am pleased to say our work continues to this day.”
King works with the same spirit of collaboration with the graduate students in his BMT research group.
“As I always say, Professor King is my academic father and I assume every student of his believes the same,” said Vaid. “He has not only polished me to be well versed in my research but has always motivated me to participate in extracurricular activities to get exposure from other fields.”
Fellow BMT group fiber and polymer science Ph.D. candidate Hui Cong, who won the MedTex17 award for Outstanding Oral Presentation, agrees.
“It is my great honor to be a member of Dr. Martin W. King’s Biomaterial Textiles Research Group,” she said. “In addition to the advanced knowledge and professional advice, he also gives me encouragement and love more like a family member.”
He may not have thought he would ever become a teacher, but he is grateful for a serendipitous career and his many protégés.
“I’m a bit of a crazy professor and I’m fortunate enough to have a bunch of really smart graduate students who keep me honest,” he said.