San Antonio (Oct. 19, 2004) – An MIT scientist known as the father of biomedical engineering in America made a stop at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio on Oct. 13 to present the university’s Third Annual Presidential Distinguished Lecture.
Over the past three decades, research by Robert Langer, Sc.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his graduate students has led to controlled release of drugs and paved the way for innovations such as the Norplant® five-year contraceptive for women, the nitroglycerin patch for patients with angina, controlled release of insulin for diabetics, depot medicines for schizophrenia patients, and a chemotherapy wafer to extend survival of patients with an aggressive type of brain cancer.
Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., Health Science Center president, said Dr. Langer “does not simply follow the crowd” but thinks of new ways to do the impossible. Dr. Cigarroa said students at the Health Science Center represent the promising future of the biosciences in America with potential to be the next Robert Langers.
Dr. Langer noted that controlled-release drug-delivery systems are a vast improvement over traditional medicines that, when they enter the body, start at a low level, reach a peak and go back down. These peaks and valleys of concentration in the body cause problems, he said. He described plastics that have pores to allow controlled release in the body for specific periods.
One of the applications of controlled-release drug delivery involves the balloon-expandable stent, which was developed two decades ago by Julio C. Palmaz, M.D., professor of radiology at the Health Science Center. Dr. Palmaz was in the audience. Localized delivery through a drug coating on newer versions of stents is cutting the rate of restenosis, the problem of arteries closing again after the first stent implant. Restenosis occurs in about one-third of patients.
Dr. Langer also discussed tissue engineering, which involves seeding micro-scaffolds with cells to grow new tissue. This could include replacement cartilage for blown-out knees, new skin for burn victims and potential help for spinal cord-injured patients. He showed before and after photos of a burned child who was helped with new skin.
The Presidential Distinguished Lecture has become one of the highlights of the academic year at the Health Science Center. Three of America’s top scientists – Judah Folkman, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, Tom Starzl, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and now Dr. Langer – have accepted President Cigarroa’s invitation to visit the Health Science Center and discuss their work.
Dr. Langer, who filed his first patent at age 27, has more than 500 issued or pending patents worldwide. He holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from MIT and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, where he worked with Dr. Folkman.
At the close of his address, the Ambassador Scholars from the Health Science Center’s five schools presented Dr. Langer with the Presidential Distinguished Lecture Commemorative Medal, which is inscribed with the Health Science Center seal and honors the lecturer for lifetime contributions to the field of science. “Dr. Langer has given us a lifetime example of academic excellence,” said Lawrence Carter II, the 2004 Ambassador Scholar from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
Each year, the honored lecturer is invited to leave a personal message in the Presidential Distinguished Lecture Series Commemorative Album. Dr. Langer’s message can be viewed in the Health Science Center’s Dolph Briscoe Jr. Library, where the album is on permanent display.