From an intelligent surgical knife to tech start-ups, the Faculty of Medicine has been pioneering innovation since the discovery of penicillin.
In 1928 at St Mary's Hospital, Alexander Fleming noticed that mould had developed accidentally on a set of culture dishes being used to grow staphylococci bacteria. The mould had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. He named the active substance penicillin – an invention that changed the course of medical history and earned him a Nobel Prize.
Today at the Faculty of Medicine, the spirit of innovation is still proving to be alive, with an increasing number of innovative ideas being turned into commercialised products and spin out companies every year. In 2016-17, the Faculty generated 92 invention disclosures involving 79 academics from across our Departments, reflecting a good year of Faculty discoveries.
To mark Imperial's Enterprise Week – a week-long showcase of start-ups, entrepreneurs and innovators from across the Imperial community – we shine a light on some of the game-changing inventions that have been developed at the Faculty of Medicine.
1) Naomi’s Nucleant
Professor Naomi Chayen, Head of the Crystallization Group at the Department of Surgery & Cancer, has invented a number of commercial products to facilitate the crystallisation process – a method used to create 3D structures of proteins so that they can be examined to advance rational drug design.
The method of obtaining crystals can be challenging so Naomi’s products focus on easing the process improving the quality of crystals. One of these products is Naomi’s Nucleant, which is sold by Molecular Dimensions and involves the design of a ‘raft’ for molecules of the protein to cling to. To date, Naomi’s Nucleant has facilitated the crystallization of 14 proteins, the highest number reported for any single nucleant!
The iKnife is an intelligent surgical knife that can tell surgeons immediately whether the tissue they are cutting is cancerous or not. The inventor of the iKnife, Dr Zoltan Takats, Professor of Analytical Chemistry at the Department of Surgery & Cancer, saw a need for the knife as it is often impossible for surgeons to tell by sight which tissue is cancerous.
The iKnife is an adapted electrosurgical knife, which heats tissue as it cuts to make a clean incision. Smoke from the tissue is ionised using REIMS technology and analysed using a mass spectrometer, providing information about chemical composition of the cells. The first study to test its effectiveness revealed a 100 per cent accuracy for the technology.
The gripAble™ device was developed to improve arm and cognitive function of patients with arm disability through a physiotherapy-like computer game. The low-cost invention consists of a lightweight electronic handgrip, which interacts wirelessly with a standard PC tablet to enable the user to play arm-training games.
The gripAble™ device is an example of the work of the Imperial Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC) – a partnership between Imperial and three NHS Trusts. The team have tested the device with stroke patients and found that 93 per cent of patients were able to make meaningful movements to direct the cursor as a result of using gripAble™.
As a result of working with Imperial Innovations, the College’s technology transfer partner, a digital healthcare start-up was set up last year to commercialise the device.
4) Quit Genius
Quit Genius is the first smartphone app to offer personalised cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help smokers kick the habit. Launched in 2017, Quit Genius was designed by a team of final year medical students. The app opens the door to a low-cost treatment for millions of people looking to quit smoking.
They were recently featured on the homepage of the Apple App Store and were announced as the winners of the Pitch @ Palace competition run by HRH The Duke of York.
5) H1 hip resurfacing implant
H1 is a novel ceramic hip resurfacing implant that could lead to better outcomes for young, more active people requiring hip surgery. Charing Cross Hospital is the first in the world to resurface patient’s hips without using metal implants as part of a trial led by Professor Justin Cobb of the Department of Surgery & Cancer.
Unlike other hip resurfacings, the H1 implant is made of ceramic that is strong, low wearing and non-toxic. The researchers believe that by swapping the metal material with ceramic, the advantages of hip resurfacing surgery compared to total hip replacement are kept, while the possibility of problems arising from the metal ions released is removed.
The clinical investigation is funded by Embody Orthopaedic – a spin-out from Imperial Innovations, based on intellectual property developed by a PhD student at Imperial.
Ryan Robinson co-founded a start-up in 2016, along with Elena Dieckmann, when he was PhD student at the National Heart and Lung Institute. AEROPOWDER looks to develop new ways to use surplus chicken feathers from the poultry industry. Chicken feathers possess a wide range of attractive properties, including a strong lightweight structure, thermal insulation and hydrophobic properties. Their project s to capture the advantageous properties of feathers and reusing waste material by processing them into additive materials that could be products such as insulation.
Ryan is working full time on exploring the commercial potential of AEROPOWDER.
Momoby is a revolutionary finger prick test that will bring prenatal care to pregnant women living in isolated areas in developing countries. Invented by Ana Luisa Neves, a research associate at the Department of Surgery & Cancer, who was a finalist on WEInnovate programme in 2017.
The test allows for the early identification of diseases with known impact on pregnancy, leading to a timely treatment and better health outcomes for both mother and baby.
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