Dr. Langer at the 2013 Palmaz Award.
Miriam Sitz

Could doctors slow tumor proliferation by inhibiting blood vessel growth to the cancerous mass? Could chemotherapy treatments for brain cancer be delivered directly to the tumor site?

Could a drug-dispensing microchip be implanted into the human body and controlled remotely by a doctor or patient?

Can you grow synthetic skin? How about an ear?

Dr. Robert Langer (Photo by Bachrach)
Dr. Robert Langer (Photo by Bachrach)

Robert S. Langer, Sc.D., has posed these questions and countless more, answering each one the same way: yes.

BioMed SA honored Langer, one of “history’s most prolific medical inventors” and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor, with the 2013 Palmaz Award on September 18, 2013.

BioMed SA is a local nonprofit organization that strives to accelerate the growth of San Antonio’s biomedical and healthcare industries, and to establish San Antonio as a leader in both fields.

The Julio Palmaz Award for Innovation in Healthcare and the Biosciences is one of BioMed SA’s flagship programs. The award, named for the world-renowned stent inventor Dr. Julio Palmaz, serves to honor forward-thinking individuals while raising the visibility and prestige of these fields in San Antonio. (The Rivard Report covered last year’s Palmaz Award, which honored medical doctor and inventor Larry Miller, M.D.)

Previous Palmaz Award winners Mauli Agrawal (left-2010) and Larry Miller (right-2012) from San Antonio join 2013 recipient Robert Langer of Boston (second from left) and namesake Julio Palmaz at this year's BioMed SA Palmaz Award Dinner. Photo by Joel Spring.
Previous Palmaz Award winners Mauli Agrawal (left-2010) and Larry Miller (right-2012) from San Antonio join 2013 recipient Robert Langer of Boston (second from left) and namesake Julio Palmaz at this year’s BioMed SA Palmaz Award Dinner. Photo by Joel Spring.

MIT named Langer a “David H. Koch Institute Professor,” the highest honor that the university bestows upon faculty, in 2005. A chemical engineer, Langer has written over 1,200 articles, holds more than 800 issued or pending patents, has started numerous companies, and has received countless awards from the national and international medical community.

The most cited engineer in history also oversees a lab of around 100 people, which includes the university’s largest contingent of undergraduates, thanks to MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).

But, in Langer’s own words, “I basically just dream stuff up, and I try to encourage an environment in the lab where I can dream stuff up.”

“We’re doing a lot on tissue engineering,” Langer said during a phone call prior to the award ceremony Wednesday night. “New ways of treating paralysis, new ways of treating intestinal disease, and working on a fundamental understanding of how to make stem cells grow right.”

PBS documented some of the advances made by the Langer lab in the field of tissue and organ regeneration (click here for more).

Dr. Langer at the 2013 Palmaz Award.
Dr. Langer at the 2013 Palmaz Award. Photo by Miriam Sitz.

Another innovation from Langer and his colleagues are implantable microchips with remote control drug delivery. Applications extend to “birth control, a variety of women’s health issues, and cancer,” says Langer. Wireless, in-vivo, microchip delivery of drugs that stimulate bone growth – an osteoporosis treatment – has already progressed to human testing.

At the Palmaz Award dinner, Alamo Colleges chancellor Bruce H. Leslie read a letter from Congressman Lamar Smith, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who offered his “hearty congratulations” to Langer. “I join our entire San Antonio community in thanking you for the difference your innovations have made in decades past and will make in those to come,” Smith stated.

Alamo Colleges chancellor Bruce H. Leslie
Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce H. Leslie. Photo by Miriam Sitz.

Leslie continued his own remarks, commending Langer’s ability to work “at the intersection of academic research and the commercial market with transformational results,” and his interaction with students.

Ann Stevens, BioMedSA president.
Ann Stevens, BioMedSA president.

“So many of the comments about (Dr. Langer) relate to his personal involvement and support of developing the next generation of leaders in the bio and science technology development industries,” Leslie said, which made Langer’s selection as the 2013 Palmaz Award recipient an easy one.

According to BioMed SA president Ann Stevens, around 550 individuals attended the 2013 Palmaz Award dinner, including the Randomists, San Antonio’s wildly successful FIRST Lego League team of seventh grade robot engineers, and their parents. BioMed SA sponsors the Randomists and has supported the team since its inception.

The Voelcker Scholars, a high-achieving group of rising sophomores selected to partner and train with biomedical scientists from the UT Health Science Center for a 3-year period, also attended.

The Randomists, a FIRST Lego League team sponsored by BioMed SA.
The Randomists, a FIRST Lego League team sponsored by BioMed SA.

In a manner consistent with BioMed SA’s mission to promote San Antonio as a hub of biomedical innovation, Bernard Siegel, founder and executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute (GPI), officially announced at last night’s event that the 2014 World Stem Cell Summit, will take place December 3 to 5, 2014, in San Antonio.


The World Stem Cell Summit is the largest interdisciplinary meeting focusing on stem cell science. The event is expected to draw more than 1,500 attendees from 40 nations.

Before selecting the San Antonio as the 2014 Summit location, Siegel visited numerous local biomedical companies, researchers, professors, doctors, and scientists working in the fields of regenerative medicine and stem cell science. He was particularly moved by a visit to the Battlefield Health and Trauma Research Institute. “To think,” Siegel said, “how regenerative medicine can help our wounded warriors.”

StemBioSys is a biomedical startup company based in San Antonio that focuses on the isolation and expansion of specialized adult stem cells for clinical use. The company’s CEO Peter Savas, a Boston transplant, affirmed the significance of this technology during the dinner. “I believe that stem cells are the future of medicine,” he said.

Savas also complemented San Antonio, saying that he sees all the necessary ingredients for success – “vision, talent, technology, capital, and spirit,” – in this city.

Alamo Colleges chancellor Bruce H. Leslie and Mayor Julian Castro
Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce H. Leslie (left) and Mayor Julián Castro. Photo by Miriam Sitz.

“Your everyday activities heal many, many folks, and the industry … creates prosperity for San Antonio,” said Mayor Julián Castro during his address to members of the medical community.

“So let us celebrate tonight,” said Kenneth P. Trevett, J.D, chair of the BioMed SA board and president of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. “Recognizing the extraordinary accomplishments of Dr. Robert Langer and the vibrancy of the biomedical sector in our community.”

Trevett continued with a challenge, “Let us also redouble our efforts to tell our story locally, regionally, and nationally, and let us not take the successes of the past of harbingers of the future, but as incentives to do even more.”

Miriam Sitz is a freelance writer in San Antonio. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com and sells handmade goods on TinderboxGoods.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitzClick here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.

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Miriam Sitz writes about urbanism, architecture, design, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @MiriamSitz