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MIT Student Invents Promising Treatments for Stroke and Cancer; David Berry Awarded $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Inventiveness


CAMBRIDGE, MA -- February 16, 2005 -- As a child, David Berry dreamed of becoming a superhero. And now he is a superhero of sorts, not the kind that leaps tall buildings, but the kind that saves lives.

Today, the 27-year-old M.D./Ph.D. student in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program received the prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for inventing promising new ways to treat both stroke and cancer patients.

“David has the inventor’s spark - an ability to create new and useful things by looking at the world in a different way, seeing connections that others miss,” commented Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, which sponsors the annual award. “He is remarkably accomplished at such a young age.”

“While innovation is common at MIT and in our lab, David’s ability to produce such a wide variety of inventions with such tremendous clinical potential is rare,” Robert Langer, Germeshausen Professor of Chemical & Biomedical Engineering at MIT and one of Berry’s advisors, said in his recommendation letter. “David has constantly innovated, and he passionately seeks to push traditional understanding and conventional boundaries to create entities to treat disease or greatly improve the standard of care. His new and insightful ways to tackle problems have produced solutions with the potential to change medical practice.”

A New Protein to Treat Stroke

According to the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association, someone in America has a stroke every 45 seconds; approximately 700,000 Americans will have a stroke this year. Currently, the FDA has only approved one drug for the treatment of stroke victims, which must be administered within three hours.

“It’s not always easy for people to tell they are having a stroke,” Berry said. “Right now, there is a very short window of time in which people can be treated effectively. I thought there had to be another alternative that could give victims and doctors more time and a better chance for recovery.”

Working with his other advisor, MIT Professor of Biological Engineering Ram Sasisekharan, Berry and his colleagues conceived the idea of a new protein called dimeric FGF2, or dFGF2 for short. This protein synthetically induces the combined effects of heparin, a common anticoagulant, and a protein called fibroblast growth factor, or FGF2, which is involved in the formation of new blood vessels.

If given within 24 hours of a stroke, dFGF2 can limit the amount of brain tissue that is damaged. If given after 24 hours, it can substantially improve the patient’s rate of functional recovery, which the current treatment does not. Because dFGF2 can be given in small doses, it also reduces serious side effects, such as extreme weight loss, which patients have experienced in previous clinical studies.

“David’s dFGF2 invention has already been patented and licensed and it is moving toward entering clinical trials,” Langer noted. “This is an incredible achievement for any student, much more so to have been completed within six months of entering a lab.”

New Cancer Treatment

In addition to developing a new application to potentially treat stroke, Berry’s studies of internalized heparin have also led to a promising new technique for treating cancer.

“Through my work with dFGF2 and my observations of how heparin interacts with other compounds, I started thinking about the potential impacts it could have treating cancer,” Berry explained. “I discovered that by binding heparin to a polymer and delivering it to the body, I could attack the cancer cells but leave the surrounding healthy cells unharmed.”

Due to the specific chemical makeup of his polymer-heparin conjugate, Berry found that most of it is absorbed by cancerous cells in the body, instead of by healthy cells. By leaving healthy tissue alone, the drug can attack the tumor without the familiar side effects of chemotherapy.

“With this single invention, David made several innovations to create a new way to potentially treat a wide variety of cancers,” Sasisekharan wrote in his recommendation letter. “This technique paves an exciting new path for the anti-cancer potential of heparin.”

Berry is also currently involved in other cancer research. Recently, he developed a way to stop cancer cells from spreading and to remove cells that may have been missed during surgery. He believes this application, which he describes as a “cancer Band-Aid(R),” could have significant impacts in treating skin and ovarian cancer.

Additionally, Berry is looking into new ways to use sugar biology and bacteria to develop hydrogen gas inexpensively. His process could someday revolutionize the development of hydrogen for heavy industry, where it is currently used for petroleum refining, and lead to a decreased dependence on fossil fuels in the future.

“My ultimate career goal is to help improve the quality of peoples’ lives,” Berry said. “What I appreciate most about science and research is that, although you don’t aid people on a day-to-day basis as physicians do, you have the potential to impact society as a whole.”


The $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is awarded annually to an MIT senior or graduate student who has created or improved a product or process, applied a technology in a new way, redesigned a system, or demonstrated remarkable inventiveness in other ways. A distinguished panel of scientists, technologists, engineers and entrepreneurs selects the winner.

Past Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winners are chronicled in the MIT Museum’s exhibit, “Young Inventors at MIT,” open now through March 27, 2005. For more information call 617-253-4444 or visit


The Lemelson-MIT Program provides the resources and inspiration to make invention and innovation more accessible to today’s youth. It accomplishes this mission through outreach activities and annual awards, including the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the largest single award in the United States for invention.

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world’s most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy that uses its resources to inspire, encourage and recognize inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, with a growing emphasis on those who harness invention for sustainable development where the needs are greatest. More information is online at


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