Medical Future Innovations Awards 2002 grand prize goes to automated human tissue engineering

London 23 May 2002A groundbreaking approach, developed by Dr. Chris Mason at University College London (UCL) to engineering human tissue using automated methods which could revolutionise cardiac surgery is the overall winner of the Medical Futures Innovations Awards 2002. In total, ten Awards were offered by the organisation to pioneering health care solutions in the fields of robotic surgery, mobile monitoring, telemedicine, virtual colonoscopy, medical device and drugs design.


Initial developments from the tissue engineering technology will focus on creating blood vessels for insertion during cardiac bypass surgery. The current procedure involves transplanting an artery from the patient's own leg, a lengthy and painful process which keeps patients in the hospital for longer. Dr. Mason's innovation would allow patients to return home faster, free up surgeons' time, and meet the demand for blood vessels estimated to be at over a million miles each year for this type of surgery.

Commenting on his winning invention, Dr. Mason, a surgeon at UCL and a Clinical Research Fellow for the Medical Research Council, stated: "I am delighted to have won this award which will enable me to progress my research from concept stage to the next level. The clinical applications of this automated technology are widespread. For example, two million United States patients with chronic leg ulcers could potentially benefit from tissue engineered products. Existing treatment involving tissue engineering has been limited, as it is expensive and carries a risk of contamination, despite the potentially overwhelming benefits to both patients and society."

Dr. Mason and his team at the UCL won the overall prize of GBP 10.000 from sponsor NESTA, the British National Endowment for Science, Technology & the Arts, and will be fast tracked through NESTA's Invention & Innovation programme for possible further funding of up to GBP 100.000 to take the technology to the next stage of development.

The Medical Futures Innovations Awards is a private venture founded by Andy Goldberg FRCS, a Specialist Registrar in Orthopaedics, based in London, and is supported by sponsorship from industry. Commenting on the Awards, Andy Goldberg commented: "Medical Futures is beginning to get a good understanding of the range of innovation and the stages of its development which exists in this sector. In order to retain doctors in the National Health Service (NHS), we need to encourage an environment which nurtures creativity and develops a two-way dialogue with the innovators. This will bring valuable returns to the NHS, boost productivity, and improve morale."

The other winners announced during the Awards ceremony at Vinopolis include:

  • Sweet Talk, a novel text messaging service for teenagers with diabetes, developed by Dr. Victoria Franklin, a Specialist Registrar in Paediatrics, from the University of Dundee. Dr. Franklin was the winner of two awards, including the principal sponsors of the event, Novo Nordisk's Award for Best Innovation in Preventive Medicine and the Orange Award for Best Health Innovation.
  • Acrobot Hands-On Robotic System for Orthopaedic Surgery, designed by the Acrobot Company Ltd. has won the Johnson & Johnson Award for Best Surgical Innovation. Brian Davies, Professor of Medical Robotics at Imperial College, London, and his team, developed the system in collaboration with Justin Cobb, an NHS Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Middlesex Hospital.
  • A Portable Personal Heart Attack Detector, developed by Dr. Michael Vassallo of the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, won the BUPA sponsored Best Innovation to Improve Patient Care Award.
  • Telemedicine Biosensor Smartcard, a unique invention for capturing and transferring clinical data, developed by James Jackson, won the Boots Award for Best Innovation in Integrated Medicine.
  • Recombinant Protein (Surfactant D), a medical advance in the treatment of babies suffering from premature lung disease, developed by Dr. Howard Clark and his team at Oxford University, captured the GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines Award for Best Innovation to Improve Child Health.
  • Venox, a novel non-invasive device to assess critically ill patients in the intensive care setting, obtained AstraZeneca's Award for Best Medical Innovation. The tool was designed by Tomasz Spyt, a Cardiac Surgeon at the Glenfield Hospital, together with his team at Loughborough University.
  • Voxar Colonscreen, a PC-based "virtual colonoscopy" solution to detect colorectal cancer less invasively without the need for sedation, received the Amersham Health Award for Best Diagnostic Imaging Innovation. This imaging tool was developed by Voxar, based in Edinburgh.
  • Imprint Injector, a revolutionary, painless blunt needle auto-injector developed by Peter Crocker, founder of Imprint Pharmaceuticals in London, won the Best Business Proposition Award sponsored by Kleinwort Benson Private Bank.
  • The Accenture Award for the Best Biotechnology Start-Up Innovation also recognised overall winner Dr. Chris Mason and his team at the University College London for advances in engineering human tissue.

In his plenary address to an audience of some 250 entrepreneurs, investors, and senior figures in the medical profession, NESTA trustee Sir Christopher Evans, a biotech entrepreneur and founder of venture capital firm Merlin Biosciences, stated: "In the Universities, the technology transfer process took a decade during which time a lot of intellectual property was sold off or lost through a lack of entrepreneurial knowledge. This awards ceremony and all the innovations that have won, prove that there IS an entrepreneurial culture and great talent within the NHS. It is time for everyone to work together to put in place the simple systems and processes that will draw out this talent and put it to work saving lives, making money, motivating the NHS staff, and creating value in a national resource."

Leslie Versweyveld

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