Robert S. Langer

Robert Samuel Langer, Jr. FREng[2] (born August 29, 1948 in Albany, New York) is an American chemical engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, inventor and one of the twelve Institute Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[3]

Robert Samuel Langer, Jr.
Born (1948-08-29) August 29, 1948
ResidenceUnited States
Other namesBob Langer[1]
Alma materCornell University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Known forControlled drug delivery and tissue engineering
AwardsGairdner Foundation International Award (1996)
Charles Stark Draper Prize (2002)
John Fritz Medal (2003)
Harvey Prize (2003)
Heinz Award (2004)
Albany Medical Center Prize (2005)
National Medal of Science (2006)
Millennium Technology Prize (2008)
Prince of Asturias Award (2008)
National Medal of Technology and Innovation (2011)
Perkin Medal (2012)
Wilhelm Exner Medal (2012)
Priestley Medal (2012)
Wolf Prize in Chemistry (2013)
IRI Medal (2013)
Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2014)
Kyoto Prize (2014)
Biotechnology Heritage Award (2014)
FREng[2] (2010)
Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (2015)
Scientific career
FieldsChemical Engineering
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Doctoral advisorClark K. Colton
Other academic advisorsJudah Folkman
Notable studentsKristi Anseth, Larry R. Brown, Sc.D., Elazer R. Edelman, David Edwards (engineer), Jennifer Elisseeff, Omid Cameron Farokhzad, Linda Griffith, Jeffrey Karp, Ali Khademhosseini, Cato Laurencin, Robert J. Linhardt, Antonios Mikos, David J. Mooney, Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, David Berry, Isaac Berzin, Mark R. Prausnitz, Samir Mitragotri, Kathryn Uhrich, W. Mark Saltzman, Joseph Kost, Erin Lavik, Akhilesh K. Gaharwar
External video
Scientists You Must Know: Robert Langer, You want to put yourself in the position where you'll make the discoveries for tomorrow, Science History Institute
Hundreds of millions of people a year across the world benefit from the technologies that rest on the work of Robert Langer., Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering 2015

He was formerly the Germeshausen Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering and maintains activity in the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT. He is also a faculty member of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

He is a widely recognized and cited researcher in biotechnology, especially in the fields of drug delivery systems and tissue engineering.[4][5][6] His publications have been cited nearly 300,000 times and his h-index is 270.[4] According to Google Scholar,[5] Langer is one of the 10 most cited individuals in history. Tied for 7th most cited in history; tied for the 4th most cited of any living individual. He is the most cited engineer in history.[6] Langer's research laboratory at MIT is the largest biomedical engineering lab in the world; maintaining over $10 million in annual grants and over 100 researchers.[7]

In 2015, Langer was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.[8][9][10]

Background and personal life

Langer was born August 29, 1948 in Albany, New York, USA. He is an alumnus of The Milne School and received his bachelor's degree from Cornell University in chemical engineering. He earned his Sc.D. in chemical engineering from MIT in 1974. His dissertation was entitled "Enzymatic regeneration of ATP" and completed under the direction of Clark K. Colton. From 1974–1977 he worked as a postdoctoral fellow for cancer researcher Judah Folkman at the Children's Hospital Boston and at Harvard Medical School. Langer credits Folkman as a fantastic role model.[11] Langer and his wife, Laura, a fellow MIT graduate, have three children.

Contributions to medicine and biotechnology

Langer is widely regarded for his contributions to medicine and biotechnology.[12] He is considered a pioneer of many new technologies, including controlled release systems and transdermal delivery systems, which allow the administration of drugs or extraction of analytes from the body through the skin without needles or other invasive methods.[13][14][15]

Langer worked with Judah Folkman at Boston Children's Hospital to isolate the first angiogenesis inhibitor, a macromolecule to block the spread of blood vessels in tumors.[12][16] Macromolecules tend to be broken down by digestion and blocked by body tissues if they are injected or inhaled, so finding a delivery system for them is difficult. Langer's idea was to encapsulate the angiogenesis inhibitor in a noninflammatory synthetic polymer system that could be implanted in the tumor and control the release of the inhibitor. He eventually invented polymer systems that would work. This discovery is considered to lay the foundation for much of today's drug delivery technology.[12][17]

He also worked with Henry Brem of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School on a drug-delivery system for the treatment of brain cancer, to deliver chemotherapy directly to a tumor site. The wafers or chips that he and his teams have designed have become increasingly more sophisticated, and can now deliver multiple drugs, and respond to stimuli.[18]

Langer is regarded as the founder of tissue engineering in regenerative medicine.[19] He and the researchers in his lab have made advances in tissue engineering, such as the creation of engineered blood vessels and vascularized engineered muscle tissue.[20][21] Bioengineered synthetic polymers provide a scaffolding on which new skin, muscle, bone, and entire organs can be grown. With such a substrate in place, victims of serious accidents or birth defects could more easily grow missing tissue.[18][22] Such polymers can be biocompatible and biodegradable.[23]

Langer is involved in several projects related to diabetes.[24] Alongside Daniel G. Anderson, he has contributed bioengineering work to a project involving teams from MIT, Harvard University and other institutions, to produce an implantable device to treat type 1 diabetes by shielding insulin-producing beta cells from immune system attacks.[25][26] He is also part of a team at MIT that have developed a drug capsule that could be used to deliver oral doses of insulin to people with type 1 diabetes.[27][28]

Langer holds over 1,350 granted or pending patents.[3][29] He is one of the world's most highly cited researchers, having authored over 1,400 scientific papers, and has participated in the founding of multiple technology companies.[30][31]

Awards and honors

Langer is the youngest person in history (at 43) to be elected to all three American science academies: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. He was also elected as a charter member of National Academy of Inventors.[32] He was appointed an International Fellow[2] of the Royal Academy of Engineering[2] in 2010.

Langer has received more than 220 major awards. He is one of four living individuals to have received both the U.S. National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.[33]

He has received numerous other awards, including the Gairdner Foundation International Award (1996),[63] the Lemelson-MIT Prize for invention and innovation (1998),[64] the Othmer Gold Medal (2002),[65] the 10th Annual Heinz Award in the category of Technology, the Economy and Employment (2003),[66][67] the Harvey Prize in Science & Technology and Human Health (2003),[66] the Dan David Prize (2005)[68] and the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (2005).[69] In 2013 he was awarded the IRI Medal alongside long-time friend George M. Whitesides for outstanding accomplishments in technological innovation that have contributed broadly to the development of industry and the benefit of society.[70][71] He also received the Rusnano prize that year.[72] He has also given 137 named lectures and commencement speeches.

Langer has honorary degrees from 34 universities from around the world including Harvard and Yale.[29]

Founder of various biotech companies

Robert Langer has been involved in the founding of many companies,[73] more than twenty in partnership with the venture capital firm Polaris Partners.[1] Success of these companies and Langer's contribution has been detailed by Harvard Business Review:[74]

  • Acusphere
  • AIR[1] (acquired by Alkermes and subsequently acquired by Acorda)
  • Arsenal Medical
  • Arsia (acquired by Eagle Pharmaceuticals)
  • BIND Therapeutics (acquired by Pfizer)
  • Tarveda Therapeutics (formerly Blend Therapeutics)
  • Sontra Medical (acquired by Echo Therapeutics)
  • Enzytech (acquired by Alkermes)
  • Tissium (formerly Gecko Biomedical)[75]
  • InVivo Therapeutics
  • Kala
  • Landsdowne Labs
  • Living Proof[76] (acquired by Unilever)
  • Lyra Therapeutics[1]
  • Microchips Biotech
  • Moderna
  • Momenta
  • Olivo Labs (acquired by Shisheido)
  • Pervasis (acquired by Shire Pharmaceuticals)[77]
  • Pulmatrix
  • Selecta Biosciences
  • Semprus Biosciences (acquired by Teleflex)[78]
  • Seventh Sense
  • SQZ Biotech[79]
  • Taris
  • Transform (acquired by Johnson and Johnson)[80]
  • T2
  • Frequency Therapeutics
  • Sigilon Therapeutics

Langer is a member of the Advisory Board of Patient Innovation, a nonprofit, international, multilingual, free venue for patients and caregivers of any disease to share their innovations.[81] He is also a member of the Xconomists, an ad hoc team of editorial advisors for the tech news and media company, Xconomy.[82]

Exhibits at Boston's Logan Airport

Langer is featured in two different exhibits at Boston's Logan Airport. At terminal C (near Gate 8) in the exhibit '4 centuries of Massachusetts Innovation', Langer and Judah Folkman are listed for 'Cancer breakthrough-1st cancer blood vessel inhibitor'. In terminal E, Massachusetts innovators-Transforming the world, Langer is featured as "Revolutionary Biomedical Technology through Development of Controlled Drug Delivery Systems" (near Gate 12).


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  21. Levenberg, S; Rouwkema, J; MacDonald, M; Garfein, ES; Kohane, DS; Darland, DC; Marini, R; Van Blitterswijk, CA; et al. (2005). "Engineering vascularized skeletal muscle tissue". Nature Biotechnology. 23 (7): 879–84. doi:10.1038/nbt1109. PMID 15965465.
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Preceded by
Shuji Nakamura
Millennium Technology Prize winner
2008 (for Innovative biomaterials)
Succeeded by
Michael Grätzel
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