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Geoffrey von Maltzahn Awarded $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize
April 27, 2009

MIT student's innovations selectively kill cancer cells

Cambridge, Mass. (March 3, 2009) – When it comes to solving complex problems, Geoffrey von Maltzahn, MIT graduate student and biomedical engineer, looks to nature for solutions. Finding inspiration in systems that evolution has produced, von Maltzahn is currently helping to tackle one of society’s biggest challenges: improving tumor detection and therapeutic delivery in order to boost the survival rate of cancer patients.

Today, the 28-year-old Ph.D. candidate in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) received the prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for his promising innovations in the area of cancer therapy, specifically two inventions in nanomedicine: a new class of cancer therapeutics and a new paradigm for enhancing drug delivery to tumors.

Cancer currently kills more people worldwide than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Despite billions of dollars invested into drug development and decades of research, selectively eradicating cancer cells has remained an elusive goal. Chemotherapies, a common class of cancer treatments, are intended to kill the fast-growing cells that form tumors. However, these drugs travel throughout the entire body, and often affect normal, healthy tissue along with cancer cells, causing side effects such as hair loss, nausea, anemia, and even nerve and muscle problems. Furthermore, resistance to these drugs can arise and can cause even initially successful treatment regimens to fail.

Working at the confluence of nanotechnology, engineering and medicine, von Maltzahn’s innovations have the potential to reduce side effects and overpower drug resistance mechanisms by more powerfully concentrating external energy and targeted therapeutics in tumors.