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MacRobert Award won by DnaNudge, British pioneer of rapid, lab-free COVID-19 testing

Published: 06/07/2021

Image of DnaNudge band and gold MacRobert Award medalLondon start-up DnaNudge has been named as the winner of the 2021 MacRobert Award, the most prestigious prize for UK engineering innovation. DnaNudge was honoured for the development of its pioneering consumer genetics technology, which was then adapted to deliver a rapid, lab-free RT-PCR COVID-19 test to NHS hospitals.

In August 2020, the UK government placed a major order with DnaNudge to supply the Department of Health and Social Care with CovidNudge test kits for use in NHS hospitals across the UK. Now also in use in care homes and supporting the return of the arts sector, the test can accurately detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus from saliva samples on-site in just over an hour – eliminating the need for a laboratory.

Based in central London at the Imperial College London Translation and Innovation Hub in White City, DnaNudge was created by biomedical engineer Regius Professor Chris Toumazou FREng FRS and geneticist Dr Maria Karvela. Others on the winning team are: Dr Caroline Golden, Clinical Research Manager, Josef Cicinski and David West.

The MacRobert Award judges commented on the simplicity and usability of the DnaNudge technology and its potential to make a significant difference to the health and wellbeing of the nation moving forward.

Professor Sir Richard Friend FREng FRS, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award judging panel, said:

"DnaNudge is an excellent example of how the UK engineering community adapted to be at the forefront of the global efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Its role in supporting the government with its testing capabilities will have gone a long way to helping to understand and contain the virus. Looking towards the future, this technology knows no limits, helping consumers to take control of their health and lifestyle and make informed dietary decisions, with positive long-term implications.

“The MacRobert Award has recognised many fundamental engineering advances, such as the CT scanner, which have truly changed the medical world. I am delighted that DnaNudge joins this group, and I look forward to seeing DnaNudge’s technology evolve in years to come, since widespread take-up of this technology will help to build a healthier nation, empowering people to take a proactive role in managing their lifestyle and future health.”

The MacRobert Award was founded in 1969 by the MacRobert Trust, and is the UK’s longest running engineering prize. The Award is now run by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), with support from the Worshipful Company of Engineers. All of the three finalists for the MacRobert Award represent the pinnacle of UK engineering, and demonstrate outstanding innovation, tangible societal benefit and proven commercial success.

Professor Toumazou, Co-Founder & CEO of DnaNudge said:

“We’re absolutely delighted to be named the winner of the 2021 MacRobert Award, joining the ranks of some of the UK’s most innovative and world-changing engineers. The past year has been challenging for all, but the determination and commitment of the entire DnaNudge team to get behind our health service and deliver a truly life-saving solution has been incredible. We look forward to expanding the capabilities of our transformative genetic testing platform to address other major global health challenges, including in the area of oncology and STDs. This is just the beginning of our technology’s capabilities.”

DnaNudge will receive the signature MacRobert Award gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize, joining the pioneers behind innovations such as the Harrier Jump Jet, the Raspberry Pi micro-computer and the CT scanner.

For the full announcement, further details of the technology behind DnaNudge, or to register for an online discussion with the winners on 21 July, please see the RAEng website.