Profiles of Success
Matrix Biology (charitable) Institute
MS Endocrinology 1967, Purdue
Janet Denlinger has been named 2002 Distinguished Alumna for the School of Science.
"From early childhood I had an interest in biology and physiology," remarks Janet Denlinger. While a sophomore in high school, Janet had a teacher who took note of this interest and recommended her for a weeklong science camp at Florida State University. This experience exposed Janet to many areas of science, "but perhaps more importantly," she states, "we were given the opportunity to meet the people behind the science, and hear why they did what they did and how they got there".
Pursuing an interest in medicine, Janet enrolled in the University of Florida in 1962 to study medical technology. "I soon discovered that the program for medical technology was much too limited in scope for studying the things I had hoped to learn, so I switched my major to Biology," she explains. After earning her Bachelor's degree in 1966, Janet was accepted into the Masters program at Purdue, where she sought her degree in Endocrinology. Those who had the greatest influence on her life during her year as a student at Purdue were her major professor, Dr. M.X. Zarrow, and the professor of biochemistry, "who actually made chemistry fun, comprehensible, and usable for the first time in my experience". Janet comments that her MS from Purdue has proved to be invaluable. "In each of the areas of science in which I have worked subsequently (pharmacology, physiology and biochemistry), I have used the tools and knowledge acquired during my Master's studies," she states. She further comments that she is happy to see the changes women have made in the sciences at Purdue. The atmosphere for women has changed significantly since 1966: students now interact with professors, who provide not only academic guidance, but also life advice.
Janet began her research career in 1965 when she was awarded an internship at the Retina Foundation in Boston, Massachusetts, where she worked that summer and the next. Her work as an intern proved to be a very positive experience, and she remarks, "I received the training and exposure to science and the people of science that have remained an inspiration to me even to this day". After completing her M.S. degree, she worked for several years as a research associate at the University of Ottawa and then at the Boston Biomedical Research Institute. In 1975 Janet accepted the position of Director of the Connective Tissue Research Laboratory at the Eye Research Institute, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in New York. While there she also began working on a Ph.D. in the Department of Pharmacology. In 1981 her work took her to France, where she joined the research team of the Connective Tissue Laboratory of the University of Paris, VIII. The next year she successfully completed her Ph.D. at the Université de Sciences et Techniques in Lille, France. Her thesis was on the metabolism of hyaluronan, an important polysaccharide molecule in the intercellular matrices of our bodies.
In 1981, Janet and her husband, Endre A. Balazs, also a scientist and her research partner for a decade, co-founded Biomatrix, Inc., which developed, manufactured, and marketed biological polymers for use in novel therapeutic medical applications and in skin care. These products were all based on hyaluronan, the molecule Janet investigated in her doctoral thesis. Biomatrix eventually became an international company with more than 400 employees worldwide. In addition to the corporate office in New Jersey, there were subsidiaries in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and Spain. Fourteen years of research and development work and clinical trials resulted in five pioneering products used worldwide: Synvisc®, for the treatment of osteoarthritis; Hylaform®, which is used to fill depressed facial scars and wrinkles; Hylashield®s, formulated to protect the surface of the eye from noxious environmental conditions and dryness; Hylashield®CL, which increases the comfort of gas-permeable contact lenses; and Hylasine®, for use in nasal/sinus cavity surgery to improve post-surgical healing. In December of 2000, Janet and her husband sold the company to Genzyme Corporation, and Biomatrix merged into a new company called Genzyme Biosurgery.
Janet served as the Executive Vice President at Biomatrix and also as a member of the Board of Directors. When speaking of her administrative duties, she states "I learned what needed to be done and either did it or hired and supervised the people who performed the work". Wishing to contribute to her own personal growth, Janet took on tasks that helped her learn more about the business world. She was responsible for Human Resources, Physical Plant and Facilities Management, the Editorial Department and corporate communications, and Investor Relations - and she loved the variety of tasks her job entailed. "I am a project-oriented and crisis management person, and there were enough projects, crises and personal interactions with a variety of people to suit me perfectly," she remarks. "One day was never the same as the next, which also makes for more exciting days, and there was never a lack of problems to be solved or things to be done." For the first ten years Janet was also active in the company's research. Though she began to diversify over the next 10 years, she remained in charge of many of the research and development activities of the company.
After the company was sold to Genzyme, Janet became Vice President of the Matrix Biology Institute, founded by her husband to promote and carry out medical research and scientific cooperation worldwide. One of the enjoyable parts about her work is that she now has the time to meet with scientists, medical students, and research firms to discuss new areas of research and ways to cooperate in new business ventures. But even so, Janet speaks fondly of the time she invested in Biomatrix. "We wouldn't have done it if it were work," she states. "It's been play, or at least we felt like it was fun most of the time."
"Know who you are and what you want to do, and pursue your goals with all your energy," Janet advises biology students. "Investigate and ask questions, and take advantage of every learning opportunity." Janet further recommends that students be specific about their career goals as early as possible and talk to people who are in the profession that interests them. "Work in situations you think you would like," she continues, "even if the job you can have at the time is not the job you eventually want for yourself. When you start low and aim high, you can see the path you'd like to take--or at least the beginnings of it." Finally, she encourages students to seek out mentors. "They are there for the asking, but you will have to look for them," she states. For women students, Janet also finds involvement in the Purdue Women in Science program to be beneficial.
A number of courses outside of biology can be very useful to students majoring in the science. "Biologists must embrace a variety of scientific disciplines," says Janet, "not the least of which is chemistry, to enhance their understanding and ability to investigate the problems that interest them with all possible tools of inquiry". She also advises students to take classes that help them develop their writing and speaking skills so that they can use them with confidence. Statistics and computer sciences are also essential, "because without them a researcher is not in control of his or her own experiments and data".
When choosing a career, Janet further advises students to consider what type of success they would like to experience. "In basic science the thrill comes from making a discovery, and often that's enough to maintain your interest on a long and hard road where answers are not easy to find," remarks Janet. "In business, the thrill comes from a more external type of success...for example, getting a therapeutic product approved by the FDA, also a long and arduous process. I think one must find out what kind of success one appreciates--and what that means in your life."
Looking back, Janet finds satisfaction in the choices and accomplishments she has made in her life. "Everything I have done, and every job I have had, has given me experience that I was able to apply not only to being part of a successful entrepreneurial company, but also to the rest of my life," she concludes. "Our entrepreneurial company was often required to perform, and required its founders and employees to perform, on many different professional levels and with all the combined expertise available. I think my life could best be summed up as "waste not, want not. This is what makes a scientist-entrepreneur".