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Robert Langer Wins Lemelson-MIT Prize; Jacob Rabinow Honored with Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award

NEW YORK, NY -- (April 15, 1998) - Robert S. Langer of Newton, MA, an inventor who holds 320 patents (alone or with others) and a pioneer in biomedical and chemical engineering, has been named the winner of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for 1998, the world's single largest cash prize for American invention and innovation.

Langer, whose discoveries are at the heart of the emerging technology of tissue engineering and the multi-billion dollar controlled drug delivery industry, was named the winner in New York City after an intensive, year-long process by the Lemelson-MIT Awards Program and three review panels of leading experts — independent of MIT - from a range of scientific, engineering and medical disciplines in academia and industry. A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has done research there and at the Children's Hospital in Boston for more than 20 years, Langer's studies and findings have revolutionized biomaterials research and technology.

The Awards Program also announced the honoree of its Lifetime Achievement Award for a distinguished career in innovation. In the course of 80 years of inventing, Jacob Rabinow of Bethesda, MD has earned 229 patents for military, industrial, computer and electrical devices. Rabinow's research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was important in the development of the proximity fuse and safety mechanisms for missiles. His technological firsts include the first optical character recognition machine, or reading machine, to use the "Best Match" principle to read broken or defaced characters, and the first attempt to store computer memory on magnetic discs instead of tapes (the "Notched Disc" magnetic memory machine).

Both winners will receive an interactive trophy, designed by kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson, and specifically created for the Program. Langer and Rabinow will be honored the evening of April 16 at a special ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

"These winners represent American ingenuity at its best," said Professor Lester C. Thurow, economist, author and chairman of the Lemelson-MIT Prize Board. "Their passion and interest in invention has dramatically saved and improved lives while advancing numerous industries."

"It gives me great satisfaction to know that the research that my laboratory has done has led to improvements in people's lives, and has given hope to patients in cases where there had been very little hope before," said Langer. "Inventions can and have helped people in major ways and have changed the world. A lot of times conventional wisdom would dictate that your idea, or your invention, is not possible. It is important to realize that there is very little that is truly impossible."

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As a biomedical engineer whose major focus is biomaterials, Langer specializes in controlled drug delivery and tissue engineering. His groundbreaking research in the development of new systems for controlled delivery of pharmaceuticals, specifically his work with polymers, has led to a variety of novel drug delivery systems including a treatment for brain cancer developed with Dr. Henry Brem of Johns Hopkins University Medical School. This is the first FDA-approved treatment for brain cancer in 20 years and the first polymer-based treatment to deliver chemotherapy directly to the tumor site.

A pioneer in the field of tissue engineering, Langer discovered, with surgeon Jay Vacanti, that synthetic polymers could be seeded with mammalian cells to produce replacement tissue or organs. These discoveries formed a basis for creating new tissues such as artificial skin for burn victims, or cartilage and other tissue for patients suffering from tissue loss or organ failure. Tissue loss and organ failure cost the nation more than $500 billion in healthcare costs in 1997.

"Langer's breadth of activities are quite impressive. He has taken his own, basic scientific work and created an incredible range of practical applications, such as artificial skin, bone, and cartilage, and implantable drug delivery systems, from which society will clearly benefit," said Dr. William M. Cummings, Manager of International Fuels Issues for Texaco, and one of the reviewers of this year's Prize nominations.

Langer's research has been used in such areas as drug delivery systems, vaccines, diagnostics, innovative waste disposal technologies, novel therapeutics, and tissue repair. In 1997, sales of advanced drug delivery systems in the US. were approximately $14 billion.

A prolific inventor, Rabinow's achievements display an enormous range throughout his 80 year career, including ordnance, sound reproduction, photography, computer technology, mechanical devices, optical products, electronic systems, horology (clocks and watches), mail sorters, reading machines, and automobile devices. From letter sorting to reading checks, credit slips and income tax forms, Rabinow's creations have been incorporated into the lives of most Americans. His leading inventions are the automatic letter-sorting machine used by the U.S. Postal Service, the automatic regulation of clocks and watches (formerly used in all American automobiles manufactured between 1954 and 1974), the magnetic particle clutch used in cars and airplanes, card punches and card sorting machines, and the straight-line phonograph, manufactured by Harmon Kardon Corp., Sony, and Bang & Olufsen, among others. Although retired, he continues to influence the direction of invention as a consultant at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where he worked as an inventor for 33 years and which holds the licenses for the patents he created while there.

"I invent because it is fun and I enjoy the challenge," explains Rabinow. "Invention is an art form and should be supported as such. It's most important for young people to find the work they love, and inventors love what they do. As a nation, we should encourage invention by motivating potential inventors with programs such as the Lemelson-MIT Awards."

"Langer's and Rabinow's achievements have transformed and enriched our daily lives, while serving as an inspiration to young inventors," said Dorothy Lemelson, Co-founder, The Lemelson Foundation. "Their contributions in invention and in the businesses that have benefited from them, exemplifies the ideals of the Lemelson Foundation and the Lemelson-MIT Awards Program."

The nation's single largest prize for invention and innovation, the Lemelson-MIT Prize annually honors Americans who demonstrate excellence in creativity, invention and/or innovation from among the fields of medicine and health care; energy and environment; telecommunications and computing; and consumer products, durable goods and industrial products. The late independent inventor, Jerome H. Lemelson (1923-1997) and his wife, Dorothy, established the Lemelson-MIT Awards Program at MIT in 1994 to promote positive role models for young people and for all aspiring inventors. The Program is administered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — the nation's leader in patents awarded a single university — on behalf of the Lemelson National Program. For more information please contact Shannon Peavey at (617) 253-3352.

Read more about Robert Langer and Jacob Rabinow.

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