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Healthcare & lifestyle innovations compete for prestigious prize in UK engineering

08 June 2021

The Royal Academy of Engineering has announced the finalists for the 2021 MacRobert Award, a prestigious prize for UK engineering innovation.

This year’s three finalists are pioneering engineering innovations developed in the UK, with the potential to deliver significant healthcare and lifestyle benefits. From more accurate cancer treatment and personalised medicine to new smart labels in pharmaceuticals and nutrition, each of these developments reflect the UK’s global leadership in engineering innovation and promise to unlock widespread societal and environmental benefits.

The MacRobert Award is run by the Royal Academy of Engineering and since 1969 has recognised engineering achievements that demonstrate outstanding innovation, tangible societal benefit and proven commercial success.

This year’s three finalists are:

• Creo Medical for its healthcare innovation in developing advanced miniaturised surgical tools that uniquely integrate radio frequency and high frequency microwave energy for highly targeted, minimally invasive endoscopic surgery, dramatically improving patient outcomes for cancer care, while minimising the need for traditional surgical interventions, moving treatment out of the operating room. The tools promise to transform clinical outcomes for patients, reducing recovery times and avoiding the risks of open surgery. The new technology enables cost savings of up to £10,000 per procedure in NHS Hospitals, a 50% saving on traditional surgery.

• DnaNudge for its pioneering genetic testing technology that enables consumers to shop more healthily – nudged by their DNA plus lifestyle. Following a simple cheek swab, DnaNudge’s NudgeBox analyser maps the user’s genetic profile to key nutrition-related health traits such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol. Customers can then use their wearable DnaBand and mobile app to scan products while they shop and be guided by their DNA towards healthier choices. The technology has been rapidly adapted into a gold-standard, 90-minute lab-free RT-PCR test for COVID-19 and is now in use in NHS hospitals, care homes, and supporting the return of the arts sector.

• PragmatIC Semiconductor for its electronic engineering innovation that takes the silicon out of silicon chips, resulting in ultra-low-cost thin and flexible integrated circuits. These can be inexpensively embedded in everyday objects from food and drink packaging to medical consumables, a crucial step in achieving the Internet of Things and addressing a range of application sectors including the circular economy and digital healthcare. The technology reduces manufacturing cycle time from months to less than a day, allowing agile “just in time” production of microchips, avoiding the risks and waste of global supply chains. In addition, traditional silicon chip fabrication methods have enormous carbon and water footprints, while the PragmatIC approach reduces this by more than 100-fold.

Each finalist team reflects the vital importance of engineering in our nation’s drive for a healthier and more sustainable society. They represent the pinnacle of UK engineering and the new frontiers of technology across fields as diverse as medical technology and the Internet of Things. 

The winner of this year’s MacRobert Award will be announced in July. The winning team will receive the signature MacRobert Award gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize. 

Now in its 52nd year, the MacRobert Award has a record of recognising successful British innovations that have gone on to change the world, delivering enormous economic and societal benefits. 

The first award in 1969 was made jointly for two iconic innovations: to Rolls-Royce for the Pegasus engine used in the Harrier jump jet, and to Freeman, Fox and Partners for the aerodynamic deck design of the Severn Bridge. 

Several MacRobert Award winning innovations have had a major impact on healthcare and lifestyle over the years, including:

• Allowing doctors to see inside the human body with the CT scanner invented at EMI (1972 MacRobert Award winner)
• The first laser eye scanner developed by Optos (2006 winner)
• The world’s first bionic hand invented by Touch Bionics (2008 winner)
• Human motion capture in Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox360, later applied to allow surgeons to visualise operations (2011 winner)
• The credit-card sized computer that made coding and control systems accessible to all, the Raspberry Pi (2017 winner)
• Diagnosing cancer with a simple breath test, the breath biopsy from Owlstone Medical (2018 winner)

MacRobert Award winners are chosen by an expert panel of Academy Fellows, who have vast experience across engineering industry and academia. 

Professor Sir Richard Friend FREng FRS, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award judging panel, said: “The UK is a global leader in engineering and technology, as evidenced by its proactive role in tackling the pandemic, from ventilators to vaccine production. After such a year it is no surprise to find medical engineering strongly represented across the finalists for this year’s MacRobert Award for engineering innovation. As we look to build back better for the future, the inspiring achievements of our finalists offer the potential for all of us to have more control over our health and lifestyle.

“These three companies represent the very best of engineering innovation, offering new ways to apply leading edge technologies in our daily lives. Whether using our own genetics to guide us on making healthier food choices through DnaNudge, reaping the benefits of products connected seamlessly thanks to PragmatIC’s flexible electronics or receiving more precise cancer treatment developed by Creo Medical, these developments offer huge potential advantages for the future.”

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