One big challenge is figuring how to get "drugs of the future" into the human body in a way that can do some good, said the chemical engineer who won the 800,000 Euro 2008 Millenium Technology Prize for some of his innovations. Langer himself has "found over 200 different ways to get that not to work," he said in an address on Monday, March 9 at the Durham Performance Art Center.
The problem is that such large molecular weight drugs -- such as hormones, proteins, peptides and forms of DNA -- must reach targets such as a pancreatic cell in diabetes treatment or a tumor cell in cancer therapy without being chewed up by the body's own biochemistry. One successful stratagem his group has pioneered is placing the drug inside a protective polymer coat. Another idea is designing polymers that be threaded though tiny bodily passages and then shift their shapes at internal body temperatures.
Langer's team has also created polymer scaffolds that experiments show may be usable to nurture cells needed to repair burned tissue, grow new noses or ears, even repair damaged spinal chords.