Robert Langer, a biomedical engineer at MIT best known for his contributions in the fields of tissue engineering and drug delivery, has been named the winner of the 2012 Priestley Medal, a prestigious prize awarded by the American Chemical Society.
The award is usually given to scientists with a traditional chemistry background, including more than a dozen Nobel laureates. Langer, 62, is a bit of an outlier -- a chemical and biomedical engineer whose work has traversed many disciplines. Langer did post-doctoral research at Children's Hospital Boston, working with cancer researcher Dr. Judah Folkman, and throughout his career has brought chemical engineering approaches to biomedical problems.
"Working in the hospital, I would see normally when people started to use materials in medicine they would” repurpose ordinary household objects, Langer said in an interview. “Ladies' girdles to make an artificial heart, mattress stuffing as a breast implant. I thought we could use chemistry and chemical engineering principles to design thing from scratch.”
Langer runs a large, 100-person laboratory at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and has 800 patents either issued or pending. That work has been the basis for a few dozen companies, including many Boston-area startups.
“Dr. Langer’s research in developing new materials to deliver medications to the body, helping to ease the shortage of donor organs, and other fields has had a truly international impact," American Chemical Society President Nancy B. Jackson, said in a statement. "It is a prime example of chemistry improving life for millions of people around the world.”
His contributions include new ways of engineering drugs so that they are delivered to specific regions of the body at a controlled rate. He is also a leader in finding ways to build tissues in the laboratory. Now, his laboratory is focused on projects in nanotechnology, for a variety of biomedical applications.
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