The following is an edited transcript of the plenary lecture presented by Robert Langer at the 1995 MRS Spring Meeting on April 17, 1995 in San Francisco.
Over the last 21 years I have been involved in examining and studying, and in some cases synthesizing new polymers and biomaterials, looking at how they might be able to solve two problems. One set of problems involves drug delivery; a second involves creating new tissues.
Controlled drug release is a relatively young field that has involved a fundamental change in the way drugs are delivered. Transdermal drug delivery, for example, uses five layers of polymers, yet the whole system is 0.2 mm thick. One such polymer contains nitroglycerine, which is slowly released for one day from a patch through the skin into the blood circulation. This process provided a novel way to treat angina for patients with chest pains. First introduced in 1982, such drug-delivery systems saw a usage rate of over 500 million last year.
Norplant systems, which are silicone capsules placed under the forearm, slowly release a birth-control drug for over 2,000 days, or five years, from what are actually six small implants about the size of match sticks. These two examples illustrate that drugs can be made to slowly diffuse through polymers over a long period of time.