Bioscience award winner 2011
Langer is widely credited with founding the fields of controlled-release drug delivery and tissue engineering. He invented systems that use biodegradable polymers that are implanted in the body. As they dissolve, they release drugs directly into the surrounding tissue. He also developed polymers on which cells are grown to create replacement tissue or organs — this has been used to “grow” skin for burn victims.
Langer is the David H. Koch Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Chemical Engineering. There, he heads a research laboratory that is the largest biomedical engineering lab in the world, maintaining about $10 million in annual grants and more than 100 researchers.
Langer’s current biomedical research includes developing the use of nanoparticles to further improve and target drug delivery. This technology could lead to effective long-term delivery systems for insulin, anti-cancer drugs, growth factors, gene therapy agents and vaccines.
His lab is creating other new approaches for delivering drugs, such as proteins and genes, across complex barriers in the body such as the blood-brain barrier, the intestine, the lung and the skin. He also is refining and developing biodegradable polymers for medical uses in which they are slowly absorbed by the body once their usefulness has passed. And he is studying stem cells, including how to control their growth.
During his career Langer has partnered with Terry McGuire, general partner at Polaris Venture Partners, on a number of startup companies — some that he has co-founded and others that he advised. Many of these firms, which are involved in everything from diagnostic systems to using bioactive materials to treat diseases, have products or treatments that are in use today. For example, one of the companies Langer co-founded, MicroCHIPS, has developed an implantable, wirelessly controlled chip that contains reservoirs filled with drugs. The chip distributes drugs on a periodic basis over a long period of time, thereby freeing the patient from having to take the drugs orally or by injection.
During his career, Langer has received more than 200 scientific awards, including the US$500,000 Charles Stark Draper Prize − considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for engineers; the US$500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the nation's largest and most prestigious prize for invention; the National Medal of Science; and the Millennium Prize. President Barack Obama recently announced his intent to appoint Langer to be a member of the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science.
Langer received his Bachelor’s Degree from Cornell University in 1970 and his ScD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1974, both in chemical engineering.