Chemical engineer and prolific inventor Robert S. Langer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- known as the “Edison of medicine” -- is the recipient of the $250,000 Kabiller Prize in Nanoscience and Nanomedicine for 2017, Northwestern University’s International Institute for Nanotechnology announced today (Sept. 27).
The Kabiller Prize is the largest monetary award in the world for outstanding achievement in the field of nanotechnology and its application to medicine and biology.
The Kabiller Prize and the $10,000 Kabiller Young Investigator Award in Nanoscience and Nanomedicine were established in 2015 through the generosity of Northwestern trustee and alumnus David G. Kabiller to recognize the people designing the technologies that will drive innovation in nanomedicine and also to educate others as to the field’s great promise for helping society.
The most cited engineer in history and the holder of 1,284 issued and pending patents, Langer is being honored for the extraordinary impact of his interdisciplinary work in the design and development of novel nanocarriers for improved small molecule drug delivery. Also being recognized is his work on controlled delivery systems for genetically engineered therapeutic proteins, DNA and RNA as well as his strong leadership.
“Bob Langer is a pioneer in the fields of nanomedicine and chemical engineering, and he has influenced so many others through his spirit, creative energy and practical insights,” said Kabiller, a co-founder of AQR Capital Management, a global investment management firm in Greenwich, Connecticut. “While great science is necessary to be successful, it is not sufficient. Leadership, working together and inspiring others are also essential for solving complex problems and helping humankind.”
“David Kabiller has a passion for science and what we are doing with nanotechnology at Northwestern,” said Chad A. Mirkin, director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN) and the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
“The Kabiller Prize puts a spotlight on the field of nanomedicine -- one of the most exciting offshoots of nanotechnology -- and the innovators and leaders driving the field forward, such as Bob Langer,” Mirkin said. “David has an entrepreneurial approach to building, fostering, and betting on excellence, and the Kabiller Prize is a great example of this.”
The IIN is a global leader in the field of nanotechnology in general and nanomedicine in particular. It unites more than $1 billion in nanotechnology research, education and supporting infrastructure at Northwestern, out of which has come many new materials and technologies on the medical, biological and therapeutic fronts.
The institute also announced today that Liangfang Zhang, professor of nanoengineering at the University of California, San Diego, is the recipient of the $10,000 Kabiller Young Investigator Award in Nanoscience and Nanomedicine for 2017.
The award recognizes Zhang’s development of nanotechnologies that mimic natural biochemical processes for enhanced drug design as well as novel nanotherapeutics that absorb and neutralize biological and chemical toxins.
Together, Langer and Zhang represent a key element of the spirit of the Kabiller awards: the importance of leadership and inspiration in tackling some of the world’s most challenging problems using nanoscience and nanomedicine. From 2006 to 2008, Zhang was a postdoctoral associate in Langer’s lab, where the research sits at the interface of materials science and medicine. Both scientists stress the importance of translational research with the goal of helping others.
“Liangfang Zhang is creative, energetic and highly accomplished,” said Kabiller.
Northwestern will honor Langer and Zhang at an awards banquet tonight (Sept. 27) in Chicago. The two also will be recognized Sept. 28 at the 2017 International Institute for Nanotechnology Symposium in Evanston. Langer and Zhang will discuss their research as will other prestigious speakers, including 2016 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Ben Feringa of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.
The Kabiller Prize and Kabiller Young Investigator Award are awarded every other year with the recipients selected by an international committee of experts in the field.
“It is a tremendous honor for me and my lab to be recognized in this manner,” said Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT. “I also think it is wonderful to see nanomedicine -- which involves great science that can broadly affect humankind -- receive recognition. Hopefully it will inspire more young people to pursue research in this area.”
Langer has made seminal contributions in enabling pharmaceuticals to be delivered to specific sites in the body, often using nanotechnology. His work has led to new treatments for cancer, heart disease and numerous other diseases. Langer also is considered a founder of the area of tissue engineering in regenerative medicine, which has led to artificial skin and tissues and organs on a chip.
He has launched 40 companies and mentored more than 800 Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows.
Langer is one of 14 Institute Professors, the highest honor that can be awarded to an MIT faculty member. He is a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT and the Koch Institute’s Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine. The Marble Center focuses on grand challenges in cancer detection, treatment and monitoring that could benefit from the emerging biology and physics of the nanoscale.
Langer is one of four living individuals to have received the U.S. National Medal of Science and the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation. He was the youngest person in history to be elected to all three American science academies (the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine). Langer also is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.
“I am delighted to receive this prestigious recognition,” Zhang said. “The Kabiller award certainly further motivates me and my lab to work hard on the development and translation of our technology, aiming to make big scientific and socioeconomic impacts.”
Zhang’s research focuses on creating biomimetic nanotechnologies for medical uses with particular interests in detoxification, drug delivery and vaccination. One major research goal is to overcome the various therapeutic barriers in the treatment of infectious disease and cancer and thus to maximize therapeutic efficacy.
Toward this end, Zhang invented a novel and robust cell membrane-coated nanoparticle platform technology. By cloaking synthetic nanoparticles with natural cell membranes, Zhang first invented a red blood cell-membrane-camouflaged nanoparticle platform that can evade the body’s immune system for prolonged and effective delivery of drugs.
Zhang further demonstrated that such biomimetic nanoparticles can function as a universal decoy to absorb and neutralize all types of toxins from the bloodstream that attack red blood cells, regardless of the toxins’ molecular structures. By expanding the technology from using red blood cells to white blood cells, immune cells, neuron cells or cancer cells, Zhang’s technology opens a whole new set of opportunities for nanotechnology and nanomedicine to benefit society.