Dr Robert Langer FREng is an American engineer and one of 11 Institute Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the highest honour that can be awarded to a faculty member. Prior to this role, he was the Germeshausen Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. Langer is an internationally acclaimed inventor and engineer, with over 1,000 issued and pending patents and 1,300 published articles. His research and entrepreneurship focus on the field of bioengineering; he is a chemical engineer who became a pioneer in drug delivery, tissue engineering, and nanotechnology.
Langer’s interest in chemistry was sparked at a young age, when his parents bought him a Gilbert chemistry set. As an 11-year-old he set up a small laboratory in the basement of his house in Albany, N.Y. – an early start to a very prolific research career.
Langer studied chemical engineering at Cornell University and received his Sc.D. in chemical engineering from MIT in 1974. Although he received many offers from oil companies after graduating, Langer was driven by a desire to use his chemical engineering background to more directly improve peoples’ lives. From 1974 to 1977 he worked as a postdoctoral fellow for cancer researcher and surgeon Dr Judah Folkman at the Children’s Hospital Boston and at Harvard Medical School. During these years, Langer developed new and innovative technologies, focusing on two projects: trying to restrict tumour growth by changing how blood vessels formed, and by developing controlled-release drug delivery systems. In his early research, Langer encountered a great deal of scepticism; this led to the rejection of his nine initial research grant applications, but he persevered. Ultimately, the FDA approved his polymer-based treatment for brain cancer in 1996, and many other products based on his research have since made it into public use. Following this approval, Langer participated in the founding of multiple technology companies, including Enzytech (which merged with Alkermes), Momenta Pharmaceuticals, T2 Biosystems, and Moderna Therapeutics.
Langer has won a dizzying array of prizes and awards, including the Charles Stark Draper Prize (2002), the 2008 Millennium Prize, the 2013 Wolf Prize, and the 2014 Kyoto Prize. He was named as one of the 25 most important individuals in biotechnology by Forbes Magazine and CNN (1999) and Bio World (1990), and as one of the 100 most influential people in America by Time magazine (2001). He has also directly changed the lives of hundreds of students in fields ranging from medicine to electrical and chemical engineering to physics and chemistry. Dozens of his students have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering and the Royal Academy of Engineering. 200 of his former students and postdocs lead their own companies and research labs across the globe.
Langer’s research laboratory at MIT is the largest academic biomedical engineering lab in the world, maintaining over $15 million in annual grants and over 100 researchers. Langer is also currently on the board of directors at Bind Therapeutics and Advanced Cell Technology.