Yesterday in Helsinki Professor Robert Langer was awarded the 2008 Millennium Technology Prize for his work on intelligent drug delivery. The Millennium Technology Prize is the world’s largest award for technological innovation and is considered by some to be the unofficial Nobel Prize for technology*. Prof. Langer was up against some very strong competition for the prize, including Sir Alec Jefferys whose invention of DNA fingerprinting helps to solve thousands of crimes every year.
For more than thirty years Prof. Langer has pushed the boundaries of biomaterials research; his work on controlled drug release has benefited millions of people worldwide, but his more recent work on areas as diverse as tissue engineering and ultrasound drug delivery (think Dr. McCoy in Star Trek) is also acknowledged to be world-leading. His research group at MIT includes over 100 scientists, making it the largest biomaterials laboratory in the world.
Obviously such research draws on a huge range of scientific disciplines, but in a review published a few years ago (1) Prof. Langer makes clear the important role played by animal experiments in the development and evaluation of technologies such as polymer microspheres used to deliver drugs to treat prostate cancer and polymer scaffolds used to engineer tissues such as cartilage. Animals are not only vital to the research process, but can also inspire new developments. In a recent publication by Prof. Langer and a team lead by his colleague Dr. Jeff Karp describes a waterproof adhesive bandage inspired by the sticky feet of the gecko lizard (2) and discusses the tests in rats that evaluated the adhesive properties and safety of different tissue adhesive designs. The bandage can hold together tissues but dissolves over time after the wound heals, which should make it ideal for the treatment of internal injuries and a safer alternative to stitches that are usually used today.
Yesterday’s award is further evidence of the enormous contribution made by animal experiments to exciting and innovative medical research. We congratulate Professor Langer and his colleagues on winning this award, and wish them well in their ongoing research.
* There are other awards that compete for this title, notably the Charles Stark Draper Prize awarded every year by the National Academy of Engineering which Prof. Langer won in 2002. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Stark_Draper_Prize
1) Langer R. “Biomaterials in drug delivery and tissue engineering: one laboratory’s experience.” Acc Chem Res. Volume 33(2), pages 94-101 (2000) PubMed:10673317.
2) Mahdavi A. et al. “A biodegradable and biocompatible gecko-inspired tissue adhesive.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Volume 105(7), pages 2307-2312 (2008). PubMed: 18287082.