As reported by Nature, June 11, 2008.

Cato Laurencin, Vice-President for Health Affairs, University of Connecticut Health Center, and Dean, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington

Cato Laurencin Brings Medicine and Engineering Expertise to His New Post

Cato Laurencin says his mother's medical practice and small home laboratory inspired his career as a clinician-scientist. But a dinner sponsored by his high school steered him into combining medicine and engineering: there, New Jersey's Princeton University recruited Laurencin to study chemical engineering alongside his medical school prerequisites.

From Princeton, he went on to Harvard Medical School and, while there, did a joint engineering Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under famed bioengineer Robert Langer. For his dissertation, Laurencin developed a polymer-based drug-delivery system; these better preserve a molecule's bioactivity after it enters the body than do traditional pills. This led to a drug-delivery system for patients with brain cancer. "Cato's work established how to do Food and Drug Association-relevant work, including safety studies needed to take a new biomaterial into clinical practice," says Langer.

To graduate from Harvard with high honors, however, Laurencin needed a thesis project. He showed that inorganic polymers called polyphosphazenes could control drug delivery better than traditional polymers. "Reaching for that honors degree proved vital to my career — spawning a long-term collaboration, multiple papers and patents, and a long-running National Institutes of Health grant," says Laurencin.

After Harvard, Laurencin spent a year in sports medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, then joined the Medical College of Pennsylvania's Hahnemann University, which soon merged into Drexel University. There, he started the Center for Advanced Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering and helped usher in a new frontier in orthopaedic surgery — biodegradable polymer materials for fracture repair and tissue engineering.

Laurencin left Philadelphia in 2003 to join the University of Virginia, but carried his sports medicine work with him. He developed therapies to repair soft tissues such as the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. Laurencin's newest work uses polymer-based drug-delivery systems and nanotechnology to enhance bone and tissue regeneration.

Having held high-level positions in both medicine and engineering at several universities, Laurencin ultimately decided he could have the greatest clinical impact as dean of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and as vice-president for health affairs at the university's Health Center. The university's programs in musculoskeletal medicine and stem-cell technology made it a natural fit for him.

Professional Background

  • 2003–2008: Professor and chair of orthopaedic surgery, professor of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
  • 2001–2003: Professor of chemical engineering, vice-chairman and clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania