October 23, 2007

Enlow's dental research legacy touted through public collection

Donald Enlow

Donald Enlow, the former acting dean and Thomas J. Hill Distinguished Professor Emeritus from the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, has left a legacy to researchers and students interested in anthropology, orthodontics and other bone structures through a collection of an estimated 100,000 slides on bone morphology and histology.

Enlow, 80, was honored last year for his lifelong contributions to dentistry and orthodontics when New York University's School of Dentistry held the "Donald H. Enlow International Research Symposium: An Integrative Approach to Skeletal Biology." The conference also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first paper published by Enlow, "A Comparative Study of Fossil and Recent Bone Tissue," (Texas Journal of Science, 1957) that remains an important reference source in comparative bone biology and paleontology.

At that time, the NYU dental school began posting some of Enlow's vast collection and making it publicly accessible through the Donald H. Enlow Digital Library. Available are some 25,000 slides produced by Enlow's and his doctoral students from 1955 to 1990. The breadth of the collection spans images of bone tissue from every vertebrate group from fish to mammal and fossil vertebrates from the earliest geological periods through the ages to the present.

The two-day conference held in Enlow's honor is part of NYU's dental school's festschrift, or collection of published writings, that commemorates the contributions of an individual by honoring the dental researcher's life and career legacy. Enlow's work has impacted a number of disciplines from orthodontics and other clinical specialties, hard tissue biology, paleontology and anthropology.

Over 50 years, Enlow's research focused on the bone remodeling process that regulates growth. He found it can particularly impact the facial structure so that its development can be understood in detail. Enlow is the author of The Human Face (1968) that details that research. Handbook of Facial Growth, first published in 1975, continues to be used in orthodontics education.

Enlow pointed out how he sees an analogy between bone remodeling and geological changes in the earth's crust over time. "As with an inorganic rock, rock-like bone undergoes a constant, quite extensive rebuilding process necessary for enlargement during growth," he explained.

This rebuilding process, termed "remodeling" by the biologist, produces changing, stratified layers composed of specific varieties of different basic kinds of bone tissue.

"In bone, as in geology, the nature of the sequencing and the details of patterns of the changing layering tell the story of what happened," he said. "Each layer provides biological insight for the multitude of circumstances existing at the time of formation. All of his now presents an effective means to 'read' the growth history of each bone, and in composite study of all the bones together, a precise way to accurately reconstruct the development of the entire craniofacial complex."

"For me personally, it has been a most exciting 50-year adventure," said Enlow.

One of his career's major research findings is that bone adapts to the circumstances of an animal's structure in the evolution process. Another finding is that of all the ancient fossils dinosaur bone is surprisingly similar to human bone tissue. These findings came from looking at hundreds of fossil species over the past 500 million years.

Shortly after World War II and when Enlow left military service, he headed to college to study pre-med but describes taking biology courses that had an impact like being "hit by a freight train." In particular, field work with paleontologist Al Romer, who is widely described as "the modern father of paleontology", sealed his interest in fossils.

Until he got into his doctoral work, Enlow said, "I had just been on a marvelous lark having a young man's great time looking for dinosaurs." He added that he didn't realize that field trips to West Texas were the beginning of a long career. Along that career path, he kept making discoveries that nudged him along and finally contributed to the biological understanding of how the human face and neuro-cranium grow and develop.

Enlow joined the Case Western Reserve dental faculty in 1977 as professor and chair of orthodontics and was appointed the Thomas J. Hill Distinguished Professor of Physical Biology, a chair established and endowed by dental alumni. He also came to the university as the assistant dean for Graduate Studies and Research. Prior to his appointment here, he was on the faculty of West Virginia University, where he had been chair and professor of anatomy.

While at Case, Enlow's leadership was tapped to serve as acting dean of the dental school from 1984-86 to fill the vacancy of Dean Thomas DeMarco. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Houston and his doctorate in vertebrate morphology from Texas A&M University in 1955. Prior to coming to Case Western Reserve, he had faculty positions at West Texas State College, the Medical College of South Carolina, and the University of Michigan, where he was also director of the Physical Growth Program at UM's Center for Human Growth and Development.

For more information contact Jason Tirotta, 216.368.6890.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, October 23, 2007 09:42 AM | News Topics: Faculty, HeadlinesMain, Healthcare, Philanthropy, Research, School of Dental Medicine

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