COVID-19: An Engineering Response
Chris Toumazou is one of the world’s leading medical engineers, recognised for his ingenious electronic medical diagnosis and therapy devices.
His latest device ‘CovidNudge’, is an innovative, lab-free, cartridge-based COVID-19 PCR test that combines advances in microfluidics, biochemistry, and electronic engineering to deliver test results in just over an hour, dramatically accelerating testing workflows. The same cartridge can simultaneously test for FluA, FluB and RSV. But how does it work?
In this episode of Create the Future, we speak to Chris about the engineering behind his inventions and hear how an entirely different epidemic informed his rapid pandemic response. We unpack the close-to-home inspiration for his work, discuss the future of modern healthcare, and hear why Chris’ mobile phone miniaturisation background applies perfectly to medicine.
New episodes of ‘Create the Future: An Engineering Podcast’ every other Tuesday.
About the guest
Professor Chris Toumazou, Regius Professor of Engineering at Imperial College, is an electronic engineer, specialising in the development of new technologies in medicine and healthcare.
He holds 50 patents and has published over 750 research papers, including those on; cochlear implants, an artificial pancreas for type 1 diabetics, wireless heart monitors for personalised ambulatory health monitoring, semiconductor-based DNA sequencing and an intelligent neural stimulator as a drug alternative for obesity.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Toumazou’s Imperial startup DnaNudge, engineered a highly accurate, lab-free COVID-19 RT-PCR test (CovidNudge) that provides results in under 90 minutes. For this innovation, he was awarded the President's Special Award for Pandemic Service by the Royal Academy of Engineering and elected International Member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).
He obtained both his undergraduate degree and doctorate from Oxford Brookes University, moved to Imperial College London in 1986 as a Research Fellow in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and in 1994, at the age of 33, became the youngest professor at Imperial College where he continues to work today.
- “It's really fascinating that naivety, for me is the source of innovation. The more naive, the more I feel we can innovate.”
- “My whole mission over the last 20 or so years, has been to completely miniaturise the laboratory onto something as small as a printer cartridge. That's because my background is semiconductors and microchips and mobile phones. I come from that domain of shrinking things with technology.”
- On CovidNudge validation: “There was a case where the life of the baby was saved, so there are some really emotional cases where having the speed of a result made such a big difference.”
- “We've been working very closely with the London Symphony Orchestra where we've been testing them regularly so they've been able to rehearse.”
- “My oldest son lost his kidneys through a genetic mutation. And we didn't know about this at all, he just collapsed when he was seven years old. And I've always thought that if we'd known about it early enough, we could have managed his lifestyle very differently […] that got me on to trying to demystify genetics.”
- “We’ve got chemists, with electrical engineers, with doctors, with physicists, all working together in one environment. And honestly, it's these ‘what if’ moments… what if we put DNA on a microchip? What if we look at the way the physics of the semiconductor works and relate it to neural systems in biology?”
- “When we pulled together the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, the whole idea was to break the silos of engineering and try and get the ingredients mixed in one environment.”
Image: CDC | Unsplash