Q If I wasn’t talking to you right now, what would you be doing?
A I would be reviewing one of our postdoctoral student’s work in the laboratory, or enthusing the staff about the type of medical devices that we are able to create at the new Institute. At the moment, we are doing a lot of brainstorming around how we can use DNA devices for early detection of disease. It is very exciting.
Q How did you get into the medical device industry?
A My background is in the semiconductor industry as a radio frequency designer. I got into the medical space when an electrode development company asked me to devise a cochlea prosthetic, which seemed a strange request for someone working in semiconductors, until we realised that I could apply my silicon chips to their electrode and produce a semiconductor that could be implanted in the ear to replace the hearing of children born deaf. To me, that was the message: if you just apply a fraction of this semiconductor and IT technology to health care, you can start to make major innovations.
Q What is the best thing about your work?
A I enjoy the excitement of creating new ideas and inventing technologies that offer major applications in health care. My role as the head of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering gives me the freedom and flexibility to do that and, at the same time, provides the satisfaction of knowing that whilst these advances could be valuable commercially, they are also providing major steps forward for the benefit of human kind. That is what really gives me the buzz.
Q What do you think is the most important medical device invention ever?
A We have moved from diagnostics to therapy to combining diagnostics and therapy in what we call “personalised health” or “intelligent medicine.” Now, it has almost become a given that a diagnostic also needs to provide a therapy. But the real revolution for me was when the first human genome was mapped, because that has opened up the possibilities of creating medical devices for early detection of genetic disease. Devices that enable point-of-care, genetic markers for disease are the most important as far I am concerned. We have the capability to replace major organs in the body, but it is far better to work towards not having to replace them.
Q What should people give attention to?
A We should take more notice of what we can learn from other disciplines, for example, the value of training medics with a strong background in technology and sciences. That interdisciplinary knowledge base is critical to disruptive developments in the medical arena. In addition, people need to take more notice of their own lifestyle and its impact on health. Health care is going to become a lot more personalised with health-on-the-go solutions for people who want to measure their lifestyle. In this way, people will become active partners in managing their own health and this will influence the technologies that we need to develop.
Q What is the most exciting development on the horizon?
A I think that the most exciting development is going to be targeted gene therapy combined with targeted gene diagnostics. This will be the birth of true personalised genetics by enabling early detection of propensity and then providing the gene therapy to avoid disease development, that is, providing personalised medicine at the genetic level. That combination is going to be powerful and could provide the silver bullet for cancer and many other diseases.
Q What do you want from your suppliers?
A I think that suppliers will need to recognise that in the medical device market, and especially in the disruptive field of personalised health, solutions are going to have to be more integrated. For example, technologies for measuring and testing laboratories will need to become more integrated as end-to-end systems. Suppliers should also be aware what these new disruptive technologies are going to require in terms of instrumentation. For example, several years ago, the semiconductor chip was the “product” and that was where the margins were. Now, the semiconductor chip in the medical arena has become an enabler to a solution, and it is that solution that is the product and where the margins exist. We have to be prepared for the new business models that are being built up around these integrated, end-to-end systems.
Professor Chris Toumazou is Director and Chief Scientist at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Imperial College, and holds the Winston Wong Chair in Biomedical Circuits, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, London SW7 2AZ, UK, tel. +44 20 7594 6168, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www3.imperial.ac.uk/biomedeng