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Recognising the value of innovative biomaterials

The 2008 Millennium Technology Prize was awarded to Professor Robert Langer for his work on developing innovative biomaterials for controlled drug release and tissue regeneration. Over 100 million people a year already use advanced drug delivery systems of this type and the number is rising rapidly.

The Millennium Technology Prize is the world’s biggest technology prize, and is awarded every second year by Finland’s Technology Academy Foundation. The first Prize went to Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 2004 for his work in revolutionising electronic communications through the World Wide Web; and the second to Professor Shuji Nakamura, for his pioneering work on new energysaving sources of light, blue LEDs, and lasers.

The Millennium Technology Prize is Finland’s tribute to life-enhancing innovations and was established to help steer the course of technological development in a more humane direction – by promoting technological research that has a positive impact on the quality of life, encouraging people to see the benefits of technological change, and fostering dialogue between technology specialists and society.

A chemist turned medical technologist

The winner of the 2008 Prize, Professor Robert Langer, has been described as one of history’s most prolific inventors in the medical field, and his innovations have had a significant impact on fighting cancer, heart disease, and numerous other diseases. His work has also resulted in significant advances in tissue engineering, such as artificial skin.

The work of Professor Langer has led to the development of an extensive range of technologies for delivering medication in precisely regulated amounts over extended periods of time.

After graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, Langer joined a team researching the early stages of tumour growth, where he hit upon the breakthrough idea that was to shape his subsequent career. This was a polymer capable of slowly releasing the molecules he was studying, and led to the development of a series of controlled release polymers able to release medications into the body over time.

Professor Langer has co-founded a number of companies over the years, specialising in areas such as drug delivery and the use of enzymes and protein-based technologies in food additives, the study of carbohydrates used for drug discovery, and microchip drug delivery technology. Many of his patented inventions have been licensed and are being used globally. The Langer Lab at MIT, where he does much of his work, is the world’s largest biomedical engineering laboratory.

Technology Academy Foundation

The Technology Academy Foundation, established as a partnership between Finnish industry and the state, promotes scientific research and innovation aimed at creating new technologies that have a positive impact on people’s quality of life and thereby strengthening humane values.

The Foundation includes:

  • The Finnish Academy of Technology (www.ttatv.fi)
  • The Swedish Academy of Engineering in Finland (www.stvif.fi)
  • and The Industry Council.
> Jaana Kymäläinen
(Published in HighTech Finland 2009)