Technology as a weapon against suffering

John Curtis

During his 28 years as a biomedical engineer, Robert S. Langer, Sc.D., has received four honorary doctorates, published 700 articles and is the only active member of all three national academies: the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences. Yet the acknowledgement of his work that reached the widest audience came not from the academy, but from a popular television show—ER.

An episode two years ago featured a “chemotherapy wafer” that was implanted into a character’s brain to treat a tumor. The device is one of many to come out of Langer’s lab at MIT, where he develops drug delivery devices and polymer scaffolds on which to build replacement tissue.

“Drug delivery and tissue engineering are still at an embryonic stage,” he told an audience in April at the Yale Engineering Sesquicentennial Distinguished Lecture Series. “There are so many things we don’t know. It is my hope that scientists, engineers and clinicians will be able to develop new principles to try to create new technologies and entities that will relieve suffering and prolong life.”