The Millennium Technology Prize is awarded every other year for outstanding breakthroughs in technology. At 1 million euros ($1.5 million), it is the world’s biggest technology prize. It was awarded this year to Robert Langer, the head of MIT’s, and the world’s, biggest biomedical engineering lab.
Robert Langer is one of the founding fathers of modern controlled drug release systems and tissue engineering. Most of his amazing technology developments stemmed from his unique understanding and innovations of degradable polymer systems.
Usually advances in medical technology take a long time to make it mainstream, but Langer found his degradable polymers rapidly being used in commercial devices ranging from sustained chemotherapy release systems to artificial skin grafts. Here is more on Langer from the Millennium Prize Website:
The polymer research led to the design of new kind of biomaterials that can be used as tissues or organs. For example, emerging technologies enable the production of artificial skin, cartilage, liver or other cells. The idea behind tissue engineering is to make a temporary structure for the cells that can grow around and within the polymer material. When the natural tissue is strong enough, the artificial “scaffold” dissolves. Artificial skin is already used clinically and growing liver or pancreas organs from the patient’s own cells may someday be a reality. Artificial tissues may also help nerves to regenerate and thus help people who are paralyzed, too.
The first clinical use of the controlled release drug for local chemotherapy was in 1986, when Langer and neurosurgeon Henry Brem devised the chemotherapy wafers used to treat brain cancer. The ten cent coin-sized (size of dime in the USA) wafer releases the chemotherapeutic cancer drug slowly in the area from which a tumor has been removed, the purpose being to kill any remaining cancer cells on the spot; this way side effects on the other organs are fewer than with traditional drug delivery mechanisms. Similar methods are now also being used and studied with prostate, spinal and ovarian cancers.
…According to Dr. Langer, bioengineering is only just emerging and will bring many benefits in the future. The next step here is micro-fabrication and nanotechnology. “One of the current research areas in the lab is gene therapy delivery, trying to come up with synthetic polymers that could behave the same way viruses do, but without any negative affects.”
Dr. Langer’s lab is leading the world in the development of a new kind of drug transport: zapping the drug through the skin without harming the skin, just like in Star Trek! In addition to delivering drugs to the body, there is great interest in removing unwanted substances from the body using enzymes or antibodies.
Dr. Langer: Medgagdet salutes you and your accomplishments.
Read more on the prize and Dr. Langer here…