Hidden Treasures From an Overflowing Desk

The thicket of papers has grown so dense that I’ve forgotten the color of the top of my desk. So here begins the process of discovery:

Ah, here’s that letter from George W. Smyth Jr., president of Interpore International of Irvine, reminding me of something Hilaire Belloc wrote: From the sea we came and to this matrix of creation we will return.

Smyth’s firm has developed an amazing interim product. It seems that more and more people may be walking around with the sea in their bones. That is, his company has developed a bone graft substitute from coral that is being used in reconstructive surgery.

“Converted from marine corals, implants from Interpore International show an uncanny resemblance to human bone. Interconnected pores and channels throughout the material allow bone tissue to grow into the implant, integrating it with patient’s own bone,” he writes.

Regeneration of Bone

These materials give back what nature has taken away, he says. They provide a matrix for bone to regenerate and replace bone lost through trauma, disease and congenital defects.


The use of coral in this way was discovered by Eugene W. White, a professor of solid state science at Penn State University, while scuba diving in the warm waters off the Pacific atolls. He observed that the pores of coral were of uniform diameter from species to species.

Familiar with microanatomy, White took what would otherwise be merely an interesting observation to the level of profound implication. Coral spore sizes were precisely those needed for the ingrowth of bone cells!

But the sea had even more to offer. White’s nephew, Rodney A. White, developed the concept of utilizing the sea urchin spine for medical applications never before considered. Developed properly, this spine, with its tiny spores and channels, could permit the synthesis of natural tissue lining the artery, the so-called “neointima.” Grafts using the sea urchin spine may well be used to replace arteries with a material that allows the free flow of blood and is incorporated into the vascular system.

“Such replacement prostheses would better enable surgeons to bypass obstructed vessels, reestablish circulation in distal parts of the body and reattach severed fingers,” Smyth says.

Now, here’s Allan A. Schoenherr of Laguna Beach, a professor of zoology and environmental science at Fullerton College, who is reacting to my recent column about saving our ocean from the fate of our Southland’s rivers. You may recall I commented that we should not have turned our rivers into concrete ditches, but let them meander naturally, maintaining an agricultural environment in the flood plain. Further, our beaches would have benefited from the natural replenishment of sediment. Now we must replenish our beaches with sand at enormous public expense.

Schoenherr agrees with me that the fate of our ocean seems to be hanging in the balance. General pollution and more offshore oil drilling could tip it into a dying sea.

And he correctly points out that we have a portion of one river left. The Santa Ana River is still allowed to meander across a natural flood plain in some areas. But, he warns, the Army Corps of Engineers wants to change all that.

“They want to spend over a billion dollars to protect us from the extremely remote probability of a 100-year or 200-year flood. What they really want, of course, is another lucrative government contract. The Corps is working very hard to frighten us, and they seem to have won over our Board of Supervisors and several legislators,” he says in his letter.

He believes that even if the big flood did occur, very few homeowners would suffer more than a wet carpet. And then he makes a telling point:

“The probability of tossing heads on a coin does not change, no matter how many times you toss it. Similarly, the probability of such a flood does not change as time passes. The existing Prado Dam was built with that knowledge at hand, and it is absurd to assume we must make it higher a mere 40 years later.”

More next Sunday. I haven’t found the color yet.