Prolific Medical Inventor to Discuss Range of Innovations

Robert S. Langer


The Friday state-of-the-art lecture will feature one of the most amazing and prolific inventors in the history of biomedicine, Robert S. Langer, ScD. His talk, “Biomaterials and Biotechnology: From the Discovery of Angiogenesis Inhibitors to the Development of Controlled Drug Delivery Systems and the Foundation of Tissue Engineering,” will share insights from a unique career as part of the plenary session on Friday, November 11.

Dr. Langer is the David H. Koch Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an institute professor being the highest honor that MIT awards its faculty members. He is the most cited engineer in history.

He has been a pioneer in applying materials science and engineering to drug delivery and tissue engineering. His career began in the 1970s when as a graduate student at MIT, he began working on a way to use plastics to administer cancer drugs at a controlled pace inside patients’ bodies. At that time, the scientific community believed that only small molecules could pass through a plastic delivery system in a controlled manner. Dr. Langer developed polymer materials that allowed the large molecules of a protein to pass through membranes over time to inhibit angiogenesis, and thereby fight cancer by blocking the recruitment of new blood vessels by tumors. This breakthrough allowed for cancer treatment with large molecules that could not previously be used therapeutically because the body’s enzymes attacked and destroyed them when they were given orally or injected.

Dr. Langer’s innovative products include a chemotherapy wafer for the treatment of brain cancer, a device that cuts the pain associated with needles and IVs, and transdermal patches for the delivery of drugs such as nicotine and birth control hormones. He is also a pioneer in tissue engineering, helping start the field of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering to address the problem of donor-organ shortages. Dr. Langer and his colleagues designed degradable polymer scaffolds that could support growth of human cells, leading to artificial skin, muscles, nerves, cartilage, bone, and organs that are now used to treat patients.

His research has spawned more than a dozen biotechnology firms and more than 35 products that are currently on the market or in human testing. He has published nearly 1130 articles and has about 800 patents issued and pending worldwide. His patents have been licensed to more than 220 pharmaceutical, chemical, biotechnology, and medical device companies.

A graduate of Cornell University, he received his ScD from MIT in chemical engineering in 1974, and then joined the faculty as a visiting professor. He has received more than 180 scientific awards, including the Millennium Technology Prize, the world’s largest award for technology innovation; the Charles Stark Draper Prize, considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for engineers; the Lemelson-MIT Prize, the nation’s most prestigious prize for invention; and the U.S. National Medal of Science. He will receive the 2012 Priestley Medal, the highest honor of the American Chemical Society.

October-November 2011 (Vol. 12, Number 10 & 11)