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Imperial medical device pioneer is Inventor of the Year

19 June 2014

Professor Chris Toumazou of Imperial College London has won Inventor of the Year (Research category) in the European Inventor Awards.

Professor Chris Toumazou (left) of Imperial College London

The Imperial researcher, who is from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, is the only UK inventor to receive an award in this year’s scheme, which is run by the European Patent Office (EPO).

Professor Toumazou has been recognised by the EPO for developing a device called the SNP Doctor.  His invention uses small silicon microchips to identify genetic mutations that determine a person’s predisposition to certain hereditary diseases.

The portable, low-power device can analyse data on the spot rather than in a lab environment. The technology represents a great stride forward in medicine as it shifts emphasis from treating illnesses to preventing and diagnosing them in a targeted manner.

Professor Jeff Magee, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, said: “The technologies that Chris has developed over the years not only have the ability to improve patient care, they are also important for the UK economy.

His work is a perfect example of translating research into viable businesses that are helping to make the UK a leader in personalised healthcare. On a personal note, I’d like to congratulate Chris for this outstanding win.

Being the only engineer to be nominated in the UK for this prestigious award is a testament to his hard work and to the technical know-how of Imperial researchers.”

Professor James Stirling, Provost of Imperial College London, adds: “This award really underlines what Imperial researchers do best – taking world leading research and applying it to help solve global challenges. The whole College warmly congratulates Chris. This award is a brilliant acknowledgement of his hard work and his innovative spirit.”

Professor Toumazou’s invention could  make DNA testing more economical for clinics and hospitals that once had to spend upwards of half a million US dollars on conventional DNA-sequencing machines. It also gives patients with results within minutes rather than weeks.

The technology also has economic benefits for the British economy. The global market potential for DNA sequencing is huge. By 2016, it is expected to be worth US $6.6 billion and grow by 17.5% annually. The emergence of breakthrough technologies such as Professor Toumazou’s cost-efficient application for testing DNA could potentially help the UK to be a leader in this field.

Professor Toumazou has established the DNA Electronics company through Imperial Innovations to market the SNP Dr. Already the company has entered into various collaborations with companies like Roche and Pfizer. It also actively licenses-out its patents with licensees including Life Technologies and the National Institute for Health Research.

Professor Toumazou received a degree in electrical engineering at Imperial. He began his career developing energy-efficient microchips for mobile phones. At the age of 33, he became the youngest professor to teach at the College, where he focused on ways of combining electrical engineering and microchip technology with biomedicine - an achievement all the more remarkable for someone who left school at 16 with no qualifications.

Toumazou’s decision to delve into the world of genetic disorders came about after his son Marcus was diagnosed with a rare hereditary form of kidney disease. He aimed for a technology that would facilitate early detection, helping medicine go from healing illnesses to preventing them.

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