Cypriot wins Euro­pean In­ven­tor Award for quick DNA test

Touma­zou’s rapid test­ing can de­tect ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tion to dis­eases with­out time-con­sum­ing lab anal­y­sis

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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PATENTS PRO­TECT IN­NO­VA­TIVE IN­VEN­TION

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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”.

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