Dr. Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, is the most cited engineer in history, whose contributions to the fields of drug delivery and tissue engineering led to over 1,050 patents and dozens of successful businesses. On September 19th, Langer delivered a speech in the Cohen Auditorium outlining some of the discoveries from his career. Throughout his talk, he emphasized the many contributions of the students and collaborators whose ingenuity drove their projects forward. Two of his former students, Professors Mark Saltzman and Laura Niklason, are now distinguished Yale faculty members.
Langer began his speech by describing his first innovation, when he envisioned injectable polymers that would slowly allow a drug to diffuse into surrounding tissue. He soon created a working polymer in the lab and published his results in Nature in 1976. However, his contemporaries were not convinced; many argued that the polymers’ slow diffusion would render his discovery irrelevant. It took six years to get the procedure funded and approved, but it was finally used to treat a patient at Boston Children’s Hospital in 1982. He went on to found Enzytech to continue this research.
This first project exemplifies many of Langer’s successes. They require incredible amounts of persistence and healthy disregard for pessimistic peers. Some of his most successful innovations took more than a decade to produce, adjust, and patent. To this end, Langer noted that, “it’s all about perseverance in the face of rejection”. Langer certainly has persevered, forging breakthrough technologies and fostering brilliant new researchers in the process.