Friday, September 16, 2011

Club lecture - BioChem, Patents and Hair Care

Over lunch today I went to a talk Dr. Robert Langer gave to the Sloan Healthcare club.  Dr. Langer is an MIT Institute Professor (the highest title for a professor at MIT reflecting both depth of research an accomplishment at the institute as well as exceptional teaching and commitment to students).  There are fewer Institute Professors at MIT even than Nobel Laureates so this was definitely a treat.  He has a research group named after him, the Langer Lab, and many of his graduate students have used their work to start up companies from advances they've made in the field of chemical engineering.

His talk today reviewed a number of these theses-turned-companies and explained more about his strategy of filing for blocking patents (those worded vaguely so they must be acknowledged for development of many different products rather than just one).  His name is on over 800 patents and many of these have been licensed by large companies.  His list of accomplishments and contributions is amazing (he is the most cited engineer in history!).  Many of the products he and his students have developed have been in relation to drug delivery but my summary of his work would take too long.  For more information on Langer and his lab, go here.

The final item he discussed today was a product I've seen not at doctor's offices or medical journals, but on the shelves of personal care and cosmetics store Sephora.  His team has applied their research to develop a molecule more hydrophobic (water averse) than silicone, for use in anti-frizz hair care products to counteract humidity.  Silicone is what all other hair care manufacturers use but it can weigh down hair.  The Langer molecule has equivalent effects without the build-up and their line is called Living Proof.  I had vaguely heard before that the brand had MIT connections, but did not understand the depth of pedigree until today.  The reviews on Sephora, for those of you who are curious, give the line about 4/5 stars.

So, for lunch today I had the privilege of listening to an engaging talk by a MIT professor who has accomplished much and affected many people's lives - both patients, his students, and people with bad hair days.  It was one of those moments when I appreciate how accessible people are at MIT and what fantastic things have come out of this plot of land in Cambridge.

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