Cypriot wins European Inventor Award for quick DNA test
Toumazou’s rapid testing can detect genetic predisposition to diseases without time-consuming lab analysis
A pioneering invention on personalised medical diagnostics by UK-based scientist Christofer Toumazou has won him the European Inventor Award in the Research category which was presented in Berlin.
People around the world now have hope that early enough detection of diseases will facilitate effective and preventive treatments, thanks to the 52-year-old professor of electrical engineering and director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at London’s Imperial College.
Toumazou invented a microchip that can analyse genetic disorders within minutes and without the need for a lab, creating a groundbreaking link between diagnostics and electrical engineering. Thanks to his technological innovation the early detection of an increased likelihood of hereditary conditions such as Alzheimer’s is a veritable milestone on the way to a medical science that focuses on preventing diseases.
Acknowledging this achievement, the European Patent Office (EPO) presented him with the European Inventor Award in the Research category on Tuesday.
Toumazou was competing in the category of biotechnology research together with Thomas Tuschl (Germany) for genesilencing technique to treat diseases, and Philippe Cinquin, Serge Cosnier, Chantal Gondran, Fabien Giroud (France) for implantable biofuel cell that runs on glucose.
“One of the most significant challenges in healthcare research is to meet the needs of individual patients,” said EPO President Benoit Battistelli at the Award Ceremony in Berlin. “Thanks to the efforts of Christofer Toumazou, applications in this field have become much faster, more efficient and more economical. With the help of patents, we can also spread inventions like these very effectively, which benefits millions of people worldwide.”
At the beginning of his career, electrical engineer Toumazou completely focused on developing microchips for mobile phones. His ambition to also use this specific knowledge for improving medical treatments stems from a personal experience: his son suffers from a rare genetic kidney disease that leads to kidney failure.
“This made me realise that medical technology is not up to scratch when it comes to treating patients with chronic illnesses,” said Toumazou. “It immediately became clear to me that if we succeeded in applying only a fraction of microchip technology in this field, this could result in developing significant innovations.”
Toumazou started researching in this field and in just a short time, he discovered that microchips can efficiently be used in human bodies. More than that, he proved that microchips can be activated by human DNA. “My inspiration when researching in the field of human DNA is nature. Speaking or hearing all involve natural signals. The same applies to electronic devices: The most natural signals here are analogue and not digital ones.”
FOCUS ON MEDICAL FUTURE OF PATIENTS
The UK scientist’s rapid DNA test is now being used in research institutions and hospitals worldwide. It allows you to establish not only the predisposition to hereditary diseases but also a patient’s ability to metabolise certain drugs.
“I think that in 20 years’ time medicine will be very different,” said Toumazou. “This technology will drastically reduce the time to get a result. Doctors will then be looking at your medical future instead of your history with technology like this.”
Toumazou’s microchip can easily be inserted into a USB stick, thereby providing fast results on a computer. Pharmacies could soon offer this quick “do-it-yourself“DNA test as a kind of “pocket lab” for everyone. It might sound like a bold idea but has, thanks to Toumzaou’s invention, already become reality in the cosmetics industry: using a chip, consumers can get the texture of their skin analysed and establish how hydrated it is. Based on this data, they can then match products to their genetic profile.
PATENTS PROTECT INNOVATIVE INVENTION
Toumazou, who holds more than 50 patents, had his method for rapid DNA testing patented in 2001, and another three basic patents of his have turned his invention into an innovation platform. In 2003, he founded DNA Electronics in order to develop and market the chip technology. The company has licensed the technology to the cosmetics company GENEU, among others. DNA Electronics is currently preparing the development of a new product line of DNA testing devices.
The market potential for DNA sequencing is immense. By 2016, it is expected to be worth US $6.6 bln and grow by 17.5% annually.
Prof. Toumazou’s parents lived in Yialousa until the late 1950s and moved to the UK shortly before he was born. He and his family have maintained strong links with the island, and he has been a mentor to Cypriot science students in the past.
By the time he was 33 he was Imperial College London’s youngest professor.
He is an electrical engineer who has turned to medical technology and invented a “DNA lab on a USB stick”.