Langer was chosen for the honor for “the invention, development, and commercialization of methods and materials for drug delivery and tissue engineering, mentoring of young scientists, and the promotion of the nation’s health.” The award recognizes outstanding professional, educational and personal achievements to the benefit of society, and it includes $2,500 and a gold medallion.
Langer is widely known for his work on controlled-release formulas in drugs. His breakthrough in this area allows drugs to be released into the body on a sustained, periodic basis so that patients can take drugs less frequently while receiving extended benefits. Sustained-release properties are now common in many drugs on the market today and have led to new developments in the treatment of specific health problems, such as brain tumors.
In the late 1980s, Langer pioneered research that resulted in the field of tissue engineering. He developed a method to combine tissue-specific cells in such a way that, when implanted into animals, new tissue was created from the cell structure. His configuration for combining the cells — three-dimensional scaffolds — was in itself an important advancement, allowing for cell attachment and migration as well as mass transfer of oxygen. Langer later developed a biodegradable material to further advance tissue engineering technologies.
Langer served for eight years on the Food and Drug Administration's Science Board and was its chairman for four years. Among other honors, he was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2007, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006, and won NAE’s Draper Prize in 2002 and the Lemelson-MIT Prize in 1998.