Christofer Toumazou - The Biomedical Pioneer

Professor Christofer Toumazou, London, England

Interview conducted by MG Michael.



Chris Toumazou, PhD, FIEEE, FIET is Professor of Circuit Design and Executive Director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London, U.K. He received his PhD from Oxford-Brookes University in collaboration with UMIST Manchester in 1986. His research interests include high frequency analogue integrated circuit design for RF electronics and low-power electronics for biomedical applications. Chris has made outstanding contributions to the fields of low power analogue circuit design and current mode circuits and systems for radio frequency and biomedical applications. Through his extensive record of research he has invented innovative electronic devices ranging from dual mode cellular phones to ultra-low power devices for both medical diagnosis and therapy.  He was made a Professor at Imperial College at 33, one of the youngest ever, in recognition of his outstanding research. He has published over 320 research papers in the field of RF and low power electronics. He holds 23 patents in the field many of which are now fully granted PCT.

Chris is the founder and chairman of four technology based companies with applications spanning ultra low-power mobile technology and wireless glucose monitors (Toumaz Technology Ltd, UK), biomedical devices (Applied Bionics PTE, Singapore), Digital Audio Broadcasting (Future-Waves Pte Taiwan) and DNA Sequencing (DNA Electronics Ltd, UK). These companies employ over 30 RF low power engineers worldwide many of whom are Toumazou's ex graduate students.

Chris is an advisor to many healthcare panels, including the Singapore Government in the field of medical devices. He is a senior Advisor to the Board of Grace Semiconductor in Taiwan, one of the largest Semiconductor Foundries in the World and Senior Advisor to Advanced Nanotech Inc. He was a member of the UK foresight committee on a report for infectious diseases as well as a member of the UK MOD Defense Strategic Advisory Committee on critical technologies. Chris and his colleagues raised £26 million in order to create an Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London focusing on Personalized Medicine and Bionanotechnology. This was achieved in 2003 and he became the founding Director and Chief Scientist of the new Institute. Chris is Editor-in-Chief of the IETs Electronics Letters.

Chris has recently been elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society, the national academy of science for the UK and the Commonwealth and the UK’s most esteemed scientific organization. Fellowship of the Royal Society is the highest honor in UK science.



M.G. Michael: I’m here with Professor Chris Toumazou in London at Imperial College and he has been most generous in affording this time to me. Professor Toumazou will go through and answer some of the questions which I have prepared for him, as he sees fit.

Christofer Toumazou: Okay, my research interest in biomedical and what has inspired this. I guess the inspiration has really been that from an early age I’ve been especially interested in semiconductor technology and I was part of the evolution of what we call radio frequency technology, things like silicon chips that go into mobile phones and other devices. And it just became very apparent to me that if you applied a fraction of the sort of technologies in this space to health care you could make major innovations but the issue is always that the medics and the engineers weren’t working together. Advances were taking place in isolation. So I was very keen on finding a way of taking technologies that are very well versed in that particular field to an application base that would actually make an impact. And the reasons that my technology was very relevant to implants, is that I’ve worked in a field of analogue and not digital electronics. Analogue is more speech, sound, voice, touching, smelling, they are all analogue. Whereas for years we graduated engineers with flat fingers and ones and zeros- the digital revolution. And people then started ignoring the physics of semiconductors, so trying to make very precise machines out of ones and zeros and that’s the digital domain.

Now in the human space we don’t need very high precision, because we don’t see with 20 bits, we don’t hear with high precision. So there was a very interesting concept here. Let’s say, well why don’t we use the area between the one and zero of the digital device to actually create functions that replicate biology out of silica, rather than using ones and zeros to try and mimic biological systems which are quite inefficient. Because ones and zeros are very precise if you want number crunching, mathematical calculations but the trade off is power, power consumption. And it struck me when a company approached me, a medical device company about four to five years ago and they developed an electrode array. An electrode array that behaves like the proboscis of a butterfly, it’s a spiral array with 16 taps of electrodes and the idea was that the surgeon could implant it by inserting a pin in the array, pressing it into the ear, pulling the pin out, and it would spiral around and make physical contact to the nervous tissue. Now this was great because it meant that unlike other cochlear devices this device didn’t rely on the conductivity of the fluid in the ear to make the electrical connection, so the power consumption in the electrodes was very, very low. And now they needed something to model the biology behind the cochlear, or the inner ear, and they could do it in a digital fashion with all the ones and zeros, all the filtering, everything that takes place. So that way they would have this electrode implanted in the ear with wires, and a big digital chip hanging outside. So my technology was one where I could replace all that digital electronics by mimicking the traveling wave properties, pressure wave properties of the cochlear but in added filters, added electronic filters that you would find in a radio. And by doing that we were able to integrate the electronics onto the electrode and have the whole thing totally implantable because the brain does all the rest. You see the beauty of the cochlear implant, is that if you were to try to replace it exactly out of the silicon chip, you would have to replace something like twenty-four thousand hair cells, which are the things that go from- the neural transmitters that connect from the optic to auditory nerve- now that would mean twenty-four thousand electrodes and twenty-four thousand filters. We did this implant with only sixteen electrodes because the brain does all the regenerative work, it does all the encoding and decoding. From just a simple array of electrodes a deaf person can hear because then the brain takes over. So you don’t need that high precision in the technology, because biology is personalized and can then take over. So this inspired this whole area of effectively looking at cochlear implants that would make two things, the surgical procedure very efficient, because of the surgical implant, secondly because the power consumption is very small, then these sort of devices could be powered up with things like tooth brush, inductive loops, with little implantable lithium batteries which means they wouldn’t have to be replaced so often. So again not so much surgery. Now where the real costs are, are not in the semiconductors and the chip, the costs have always been in the surgical procedure, so by reducing the cost of the surgical procedure then we’ve reduced the cost of the overall implant. So we’ve gone from thousands, about $20,000 as it used to be, down to a few thousand dollars and that’s the sort of approach we’ve taken.

M.G. Michael: And from cochlear prosthetics? Where to from there?

Christofer Toumazou: Obviously we’ve sort of moved along from cochlear prosthetics to use the same idea for retina prosthetics and with the retina, we had similar issues. That if you try and replace all the intelligence of the ganglions in the inner eye of the retina, because the retina has something like a hundred million photo receptors which then stimulate ganglion cells which then connect to the optic nerve… so our idea was to take the behavior of those photo receptors and make an array of photo diodes. Now this is where the beauty of the technology comes in, because what we’re doing is rather then do things globally- if you take a camera like a CCD (charge-coupled device) camera you do things globally and you get over exposure and every pixel doesn’t actually do something, it will do something across the whole array of pixels- whereas with the retina, on every single pixel you have got local intelligence because the retina is the only part of the brain that is visible. So what we do is on every pixel we put gain control, quantization, filtering. You can understand then, that we are creating local intelligent sensor devices that effectively mimic the exact behavior of the biology. Because that’s what the biology is doing there is lots of local intelligence in biology, and again we would not be able to achieve that in a power efficient way using digital electronics. So the semi-conductor technology was very interesting, and the other thing to say about the technology behind this is the fact that as you, if you think of the transistor, its like saying... okay imagine an egg timer you’ve either got all the sand on one side and then it falls to the other side so after a couple of minutes it’s either all or nothing, that’s the digital clock. Now the analogue clock is when its in-between, it’s between the one and the zero so it’s continuous, and it’s the in-between that’s really efficient. So effectively what is happening with the semiconductor industry now is that people are trying to put billions of transistors onto silicon chips and these transistors are being switched on digitally. Fortunately for us, one of the biggest problems for the semiconductor industry is the leakage currents, and it’s that leakage between the one and zero that we have been exploiting to do this analogue work. So effectively we’ve been looking at the weakness of the digital electronics to make some very efficient, very low power analogue. We’re talking nano-watts of power consumption. A nano-watt is a billionth of the power of a light bulb to do all this sort of intelligence.

Now if we move through because there’s a lot here about implants, and technology and issues along those lines. One of the things that I was able to do was, okay, I got very much involved initially in the telecom space and you’ve seen the migration into the biomedical world because of the work on cochlear and retina, but what also became very apparent is that I used to run a large group in electrical engineering and I was then asked to run the department of bioengineering here at the college and I found that the engineers were really the innovators in the medical space. I had rocket scientists working with me that were the best designers of heart pumps, left ventricular devices, the best designers, aeronautical engineers…

M.G. Michael: Is this something you are especially promoting? I mean the cross-disciplinary involvement?

Christofer Toumazou: Yes. The whole cross disciplinary area is something that I tried to promote at the department of engineering. So I tried to break down this traditional silo that we have in academic institutions. Each department is a good ingredient, so electrical is an ingredient, mechanical is an ingredient and the clinicians have their ingredient. So the idea of the department for me was to try and get these ingredients to make a mixture and it was this large scale mixture. Without that mixture the cochlear implant would have been very difficult to achieve. And the icing on the cake are obviously the medical devices. Now it was very hard even in the department, because a department in an institution like this is in competition to other departments. So I decided to create something a level higher then departments, and this new institute that we’ve got, the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, it’s the largest institute in Europe. I raised about thirty million pounds actually, over the past two and a half years to build this. This used to be the Royal School of Mines, so we have gone from mining to biomedical engineering! So it shows you the sort of differences that happen with time.

M.G. Michael: Yes, I would reckon there is a metaphor…

Christofer Toumazou:  Yes, absolutely. But the motivation for this institute that we’ve created is to effectively graduate very wealthy noble laureates because the next generation graduate is quite entrepreneurial so there is a very big mix.

But coming back to the technology so we have to think, I come from a background which is very much consumer-oriented, the mobile phone and that sector being an electrical engineer, so how do we leverage on the economies of scale in the sort of health care arena. That’s where all the new paradigms are being set up. You’ll find in a number of big companies, even Intel, have set up digital health, and what is it that’s attracting them? Well first of all we’re seeing people living longer, you’re seeing in some places now the demographics, you get more people living over sixty-five then under sixty. So people need better quality of life, they are living longer. Obesity, problems like that, we need early detection to avoid Type 2 diabetes and Type 1 diabetes. Chronic disease management is costing the National Health Service (NHS) over here and the Medicare in Australia, and others, its costing huge amounts of money. So I needed to set this institute up around a technology base which was disrupted enough to break into the economies that would allow the medical device out of the hospital and into the home. Much more oriented towards the consumer rather than the hospital. So we created a division in this institute around the field that we call personalized health care. And personalized health care is both diagnostics and therapeutics in a combination. The diagnostics are really around this whole idea of 24/7 monitoring.

M.G. Michael: Is that the much talked about idea of prediction and prevention?

Christofer Toumazou: Yes. It’s also managing chronic disease. I mean, I can say this and you can put it on the interview or not, for the last three years my son has been on dialysis, kidney dialysis, and he has had a transplant about two months ago, a kidney transplant. And I saw first hand during that period of time the stress of going to the hospital, of going to have a blood test, going to have a blood pressure test. All those things are very, very stressful, when most of the time it would have been okay, because his blood pressure would have been okay. Whereas these monitors and this whole technology base is about having the ability to measure these parameters in a way which is non-invasive, and that’s effectively transparent. But also in a way that allows freedom of the individual just to go on with their daily life, they don’t know that they are being monitored and only if a particular vital sign is detected will it indicate an alarm. That alarm then gets compared with their patient database information, which then will only activate them to go to the hospital if that trend was so evident in the past two or three hours. So that sort of technology which is an application of the radio work, combined with the sensors, combined with the intelligence locally, which means you’re doing a lot of the intelligent work on the sensor, measuring blood pressure, measuring heart rate, measuring heart rate variability in a continuous way. I think that this point of care, out of the hospital and in the home, for early detection for chronic disease management is critical. But the only way that is going to break through is that if the economies are there, it’s a matter of the hospitals and the NHS saving money by us using these technologies. So that private insurance companies are taking them on board.

M.G. Michael: So the nuts and bolts of the technological infrastructure are already in place?

Christofer Toumazou: The end-to-end infrastructure is there now and the end to end infrastructure is basically going from the patient right through to the hospital database. But the provider of this technology which is the end-to-end infrastructure is only economically viable if the technology that is being used has two important factors. One, it has to be continuous 24/7 monitoring. If it’s an accelerometer for the elderly, if they fall over you know they’ve fallen over and it sends a signal off to the medic, to the health care worker if its heart its 24/7 monitoring. And also that its 24/7 monitoring but also cheap and disposable. So that’s how we leverage on the semiconductor industry. Now that’s why the semiconductor industry is pushing that not for just therapeutics with cochlear and retina but they’re pushing for things that are actually much more part of the consumer world in a sense that makes the medical device much more of a gadget, so your medical device interfaces with your personal digital assistant (PDA). You could imagine somebody who is obese so there needs to be conformity that they go to the gym, now they don’t need to go to the gym, but they have a digital plaster which is a heart monitor, and this heart monitor connects to their PDA so if they do go to the gym then the information will be compared to their database and they might get a reward via the phone… say we’re going to download you a free tune for your iPod. That is why mobile phone network operators are now getting involved, why the Oracles are providing the databases for these systems, and why the sensor manufacturers want a piece of the pie. They are all getting very much involved in bringing this whole space together and this is great because it means now that we are not inventing new technologies, but we are applying well-known technologies to this human space.

M.G. Michael: So as human beings you see us as being part of an extensive and evolving network?

Christofer Toumazou:  That’s right.

M.G. Michael: So we are part of that network right now?

Christofer Toumazou: We are part of it, but we are mobile, we are free. We are not wired- this is the wireless world now.

M.G. Michael: Have we moved beyond the wired network?

Christofer Toumazou: Yes, that’s right we’ve moved beyond the wired network.

M.G. Michael: So mobility is the key here?

Christofer Toumazou: That’s the whole idea.

M.G. Michael: Ubiquitous computing-

Christofer Toumazou: Ubiquitous computing and pervasive monitoring and the whole sensor network. But that’s only feasible now because people have been designing these devices for many years. But there are three important things that have changed. First of all is the technology has become basically almost disposable, so it has become very, very cheap. Secondly-

M.G. Michael: And accessible…

Christofer Toumazou: And accessible… Secondly peoples’ understanding of their own health and well being, they’re a lot more educated. People are living longer and they’re accepting that. And thirdly we’re creating these end-to-end infrastructures that weren’t available before, you couldn’t go out there with a medical device on its own, you know it wouldn’t- it has to fit into something. And in fact in the States they’ve got these networks now where they are trying to create standards around the whole medical infrastructure.

M.G. Michael: Are these the protocols in engineering?

Christofer Toumazou: Protocols in engineering, yes. So the company I launched called Toumaz Technology, about five years ago now, when we kicked off we were making radios, digital audio broadcasting chips basically, and then we demonstrated that we could make a processor for these radios that consumes something like a thousand times less power then a digital processing chip. That’s when my migration to the health care and the cochlear work took place so all I decided to do with Toumaz Technology as a business was I would focus Toumaz just on the medical space and apply this technology, this sort of low power analogue digital technology to the health care arena, spin out the radio work to much more of a consumer radio arena. And we set up a company called Future Waves which makes these products which are digital radios, and digital TV into chips and mobile phones and laptops. Now all along this work is to do with things like... you know, there are the non-invasive technologies, that we can look at and there are things like the technologies for senile dementia and medical illness. And again, if we can monitor people we can monitor their behavior by using wireless non-obtrusive technologies. It makes it applicable and then it saves the costs... the bottom line is saving costs and helping the individual.

M.G. Michael: And it’s also important to make these things as non-visible as possible?

Christofer Toumazou: Absolutely, unobtrusive.

M.G. Michael: That’s what the market’s demanding?

Christofer Toumazou: Absolutely, and the product of Toumaz, by the way it is called a Digital Plaster, and its actually a chip smaller than the one you can see here... smaller then this silicon chip and it sits behind a band-aid so effectively its disposable because it’s powered up by power paper so it sticks and measures your ECG 24/7 (figure 1). It’s wirelessly connected to your modem or your PDA it sends the information 24/7 to the patient. Now we’ve applied these technologies to two other types of diseases. The more mature is for epilepsy control because again what we are realizing is that there are ways of remotely monitoring and then providing stimulation as well as recording. Lots of people do that separately, you diagnose and then you come up with a therapy. So we have been looking at the vegas nerve (the nerve that connects from the central nervous system throughout the body)

And the idea is we are using cup electrodes but we are not using electrical recording- we have this patent here around the idea of using chemical recording. Because the brain is made up of electrical and chemical behavior and so what we’re very keen on is looking at reaction monitoring and looking at the reaction, the chemical reaction due to sodium and potassium ionic changes as a result of say an epileptic seizure or as a consequence of a depression. From the chemical response we can then predict the onset of either a depressive fit or an epileptic fit; and then once predicted the nerve can be stimulated to counter the seizure. And that is truly personalized health care.

M.G. Michael: What is making these new technologies increasingly possible?

Christofer Toumazou: It’s possible to have because we are moving away from the huge technological devices, these big halter monitors for measuring heart, these big electrodes for measuring neural disorders to very, very low power biomedical, electrical, lab-on-a-chip technologies. This institute for example is pulling together. I’ve got biochemists working with aeronautical engineers with electrical engineers, and we’re putting everything on a chip. So you’ve got the sampling the micro fluidics, you’ve got the mechanical silicon structures (MSS), and you’ve got the electronics all on a chip and its possible now because we’ve miniaturized right down to the nanotechnology space. The beauty here is you’ve got the cellular level people who are coming up to the micro people, and the micro people who are coming to the cellular level, and we’re meeting at the nanotechnology. So what nanotechnology means to me, is a meeting of the cellular level to the microchip people, it’s that integration level of the two and that’s fantastic. And by doing that we can then sort of make things like carbon nanotubes, we can make diode scaffolds and we’ve got work going on here where we are using our technology to monitor stem cell growth. Again how do you know if a stem cell is growing into a lung or into a heart or into a liver, the whole idea is that we grow these things initially in bio-reactors. But then if we could monitor their expansion properties we can look at growth properties and then we can provide the correct mixtures and we can monitor how they are going remotely, then if it’s not doing the right thing we correct it. So monitoring and diagnostics are really where this technology is really, really headed.

I think we are going to move away from using things like silicon implants to replace biology and we’re going to be using tissue engineering, stem cell engineering to replace biology, but what we are going to be doing is using the electronics to monitor the biology. So that’s where the therapy will be replaced by actually growing new organs, but the actual diagnostics will be taking place with all the low powered engineering that we are looking at. And I think that the whole point is that the digital revolution has been a good revolution for the telecoms, for the computer world, but for the medical arena and for the human space we need to go back to the physics of our semiconductors. Some of the early work I did was at Caltech, and what they were doing- this is where Kevin Warwick’s group and others come in- was to look at the physics of the semiconductor and try to fit it to the biology. Say, you know, this has got a mathematical function and this is exactly the mathematical function of the cochlear, let’s fit it together. And I took that whole approach, it’s almost like what I like to call creating a silica, the difference was I tried to give it also some fundamental laws of semiconductors so that there was a formality around it. I wanted to give it something that was a lot more formal, then it being well “let’s just create this and create that”. So it’s very artistic in a way. I’m trying to give it some sort of qualitative design, giving it some sort of instruction and some language so that you can understand that design.

M.G. Michael: The variables-

Christofer Toumazou: The variables, exactly-

You know, I’ve written a book called Trade Offs in this design context and the whole idea is, to understand those tradeoffs, because its understanding “trade offs”.  Because the whole biology is full of trade offs and there’s a couple of students with me now, I’ve got a couple of Greek-Cypriots… one of those is working on an artificial pancreas for diabetes and what we’ve done here is it’s actually got some sensors for measuring in real time the glucose levels that are coming out of either, into the tissue or fluid or the blood. Now what happens is once you take, once you measure the glucose levels then how much insulin do you need to secrete? There is this organ that we use called the beta cell, that’s part of the pancreas and it is quite an intelligent cell, it actually works out from the glucose the exact amount of insulin. Now you could be hyperglycemic or you could be hypoglycemic and the regulation of that is by the beta cell and that’s personalized to each individual so your glucose levels will change or your diet or insulin secretion will change. What he has done here, is taken the mathematics of the beta cell, the neural mathematics and he has created or replicated that mathematics in silicon and he has integrated that onto the sensor. So now what’s coming out of the sensor is a 24/7 indication of exactly the amount of insulin that needs to be secreted in a diabetic rather then the just take a spot measure. So you take your spot measurement, this is the amount of glucose you need, you go and have dinner and it has completely changed.

Now there are companies which are actually making implantable insulin pumps that fit under the peritoneal cavity. They are basically open loop, there is no way of closing it. The intelligence to close that loop based upon this beta cell does not exist as far as we know, so what we’re looking at is using this as a wireless closed loop system so it’s automatic. For instance, we’ve successfully made an artificial pancreas using this local intelligence idea. And why now? Because we can make it with a few microns of silicon, very, very low power using this sort of mixed signal analogue and digital electronics, but not just pure digital electronics.

M.G. Michael: If I could ask a question here… this is all fascinating, truly extraordinary… Katina and I have proposed a few new concepts and one of them is, the Electrophorus. I would like you to correct our thinking on this if you think we are off-course. In our papers we speak of the Electrophorus in the context that we are now becoming the bearers and couriers of electricity, “Electro-phorus.” So one of our key terms, and what we speak of is the rise of the Electrophorus, that we are going to be the literal and manifest bearers of electricity. So the first thing I would like to ask is how do you see that? Are we onto something here as a concept, as a metaphor of this potentially new state of being? And the second thing is we are also thinking, to try and understand where we are going as humans and we thought of the Homo Electricus as a generic term to denote this perceived evolution. So we are speaking of Electrophorus and Homo Electricus (with a nod to Marshall McLuhan) to try and explain where we are heading as people, as humans, because of the “new connection” to technology. How do you see these concepts? Are they indicative, are they strong enough concepts to describe a reality which for some thinkers is just around the corner.

Christofer Toumazou: I think you’re onto something very important here because I think the human now will actually be an integral part to the actual device itself. The biology of the human itself will interact very much with the sensors that we are developing and it’s that information that we’re wirelessly going to send. You can’t have something, you can’t integrate a sensor without having the human biology as part of that sort of media. So I think that is a very interesting way that you put it, I am very, very for that. And that is why we call it the sort of the “human space.” I mean my terminology is the human space. And we’ve become almost a part of this integrated network, and we are all personalized. You know, so you have your personal ID, and you have your personalized health care. The thing that’s also quite interesting is that there are technologies being developed where we can practically, not as a metaphor, we are actually practically using the body to generate that electricity, so there’s work going on here where we are using the beating of the heart, to create capacitive effects which will then generate the power that we need to actually give us all unique capabilities. That’s much more than a metaphoric sort of example.

M.G. Michael: How is this electricity generated?

Christofer Toumazou:  We’re actually physically generating electricity from MSS devices and I think you know, there was some very early work which I did sort of follow and I tried to get involved with but unfortunately my colleague passed away, a man called Jack Beledis who was a French physicist who was very interested in this idea that the body is electrical information and from that electrical information being emitted we could actually diagnose things or we can almost you known transfer from one ear to another, almost going back to tele-presence. But there was a lot of that and there was some very good physical fundamental theory around Froehlich a very famous physicist, and Einstein. We’re almost a magnet, the human has become a magnet, and where we are moving away from is the mobile technologies the PDA from being a fashion accessory but much more now for the good of mankind you know that’s where this is being put. So we are becoming part of it in a human sort of diagnostic sense. So I totally agree with your point there.

M.G. Michael: What I’d like to ask you before we move on and conclude here are a couple of important points that I want to know if you have an interest in. What I’d like to ask is, first question, how do you understand ethics in all of this? Is there a role for ethics? Do you consider it in your work? Do you think it’s important? There are a lot of questions but basically the question is how do you understand ethics in what you are doing? You spoke about cross disciplinary work, would you include ethics in that, would you be interested in what an ethicist or a theologian has to say, when you speak of cross disciplinary work? Should ethics be involved in the conversation, should there be ethical discourse?

Christofer Toumazou: Yes, I think that in fact the ethics is extremely important and I would include it. In fact I’m very keen that we have an ethics course here in the Institute for these medical scientists. You know what stimulated this thinking was that I gave a lecture in the UK to school kids, you know some of them 13 or 14 and most of their questions were around the ethics of the technology and not the technology, and it was very interesting. So from the point of view of understanding the ethical issues, I think it is mandatory. Ethics have to be a part of the procedure that we need to go through to validate the medical device and hence my interest in, for example, the area of stem cell research. It’s important for me to show that okay, we can develop technologies that can actually measure what is happening with stem cells so that you can then make the decision on whether or not this thing can be feasible. There was a very interesting question that one of the school kids asked me. He said now that you can make retinal implants, you can make super cameras, does that mean you could give people better sight than they ever had? Can you make Superman although that-

M.G. Michael: And should you?

Christofer Toumazou: Well. And that’s where I come to a halt, because effectively I think that a deaf person that has heard and lost their hearing and they can get their hearing regained is fine. But actually trying to give someone that can hear, super hearing is not fine.

M.G. Michael: There is then a discernible line at human engineering?

Christofer Toumazou: Exactly, that’s the term.

M.G. Michael: So, in an ethical construct you would say, and I’m going to be only general and not specific here, you want to repair the human, not recreate the human. So that’s basically the ethical paradigm.

Christofer Toumazou: Absolutely.

M.G. Michael: Simple as that?

Christofer Toumazou:  That was very well said.

M.G. Michael: I feel very pleased that you would think so.

Christofer Toumazou:  It’s exactly that.

M.G. Michael: It’s really good to know that. It answers many other questions I would have had.

Christofer Toumazou: And I’m really just looking at ways that we could you know, repair, you say repair biology to give the function that we had. Also I think that the sooner we get the technologies around early detection of disease, I believe that will solve a lot of problems because to me that’s where the major innovation has to be. We are going to have to move away from the repairing to the early diagnostic so we can control and manage rather than repair and I think that’s very, you know very interesting. There is a quote from General Electric, saying that you know “doctors look at your medical history, wouldn’t it be great if they could look at your medical future” and that is actually what this whole DNA work that we are involved in is doing, looking at predisposition. And I don’t know if there is another ethical question around predisposition.

M.G. Michael: Professor Toumazou, thank you very much. It was a distinct privilege, indeed, to have met you and spoken with you.

Christofer Toumazou: Michael, thank you.


Key Terms & Definitions

Analog: Any device which represents a variable by a continuously moving or varying entity as a clock, the hands of which move to represent time.

Bio-engineering: The application of engineering principles to the design and manufacture of such medical aids as artificial limbs.

Biological Systems: Denotes a group of organs that work together in concert to perform a task. The human body is composed of a group of systems, for example, the nervous system.

Biomedical: Denotes the biological sciences which relate directly to medicine, as histology, embryology.

Bionic (Wo)man: Combining both biological and electronic elements in a man or woman that allow prosthetic limbs to be controlled by on-board computers.

Bioreactor: An apparatus used industrially for biochemical reactions, such as fermentation, or for processing biological materials.

Cochlear Implant (CI): A surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. Unlike hearing aids, the cochlear implant does not amplify sound, but works by directly stimulating any functioning auditory nerves inside the cochlea with electric field stimulated through electric impulses.

Diabetes: A disease in which the ability of the body to use sugar is impaired and sugar appears abnormally in the urine.

Diagnostics: The art or science of diagnosis; the process of determining, by examination of the patient, the nature and identity of a diseased condition.

Digital: Describes electronic technology that generates, stores, and processes data in terms of two states: positive and non-positive.

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA): A nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms and some viruses. The main role of DNA molecules is the long-term storage of information.

Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG): Is a noninvasive transthoracic graphic produced by an electrocardiograph, which records the electrical activity of the heart over time.

Electrode: A device that emits, controls or receives electricity. An electrode array is a configuration of electrodes.

Electrophorus: A human bearer of electricity. The root electro comes from the Greek word meaning “amber,” and phorus means to “wear, to put on, to get into.” When an electrophorus passes through an electromagnetic zone, he or she is detected, and data can be passed from an implanted microchip (or in the future directly from the brain) to a computer device.

Epilepsy: A neurological disease usually characterized by convulsions and almost always by loss of consciousness.

Ethics: A system of moral principles, by which human actions and proposals may be judged good or bad or right or wrong.

Lithium Batteries: Lithium batteries are disposable batteries that have lithium metal or lithium compounds as an anode. Depending on the design and chemical compounds used, lithium cells can produce voltages from 1.5V to about 3.0V, twice the voltage of an ordinary zinc-carbon battery or alkaline cell. Lithium batteries are widely used in products such as portable consumer electronic devices.

Nanotubes: A hollow cylindrical molecule made of carbon. Nanotubes are being investigated as semiconductors and for uses in nanotechnology.

Nano-watt (nW): One thousand millionth (10-9) of a watt.

Neural Disorders: A disorder (or disease) that usually results in the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Dopamine is a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain. In the case of Parkinson’s disease the loss of dopamine causes the nerve cells to fire out of control, leaving patients unable to direct or control their movement in a normal manner.

Pervasive monitoring: Are systems that are used for personalized healthcare services for the electronic data capture of patient information. For example, at-risk heart patients may be monitored remotely using devices that transmit blood pressure to a central database.

Prosthesis: The addition of an artificial part to supply a defect of the body; such a part, as an artificial limb.

Semiconductor: A substance like silicon whose electrical conductivity is intermediate between that of a metal and an insulator.

Sensors: A device that measures or detects a real-world condition, such as motion, heat or light and converts the condition into an analog or digital representation.

Superman: A man of more than human powers.

Therapeutics: The branch of medicine concerned with the remedial treatment of disease.

Transistor: A small electronic device containing a semiconductor with at least three contact points that regulates voltage flow and acts as a gate for electronic signals.

Transplant: The transplanting of tissue from one patient to another, also known as allogenic transplantation, as in the case of transplanting a donor kidney into a recipient.

Ubiquitous Computing (UC): The ability to access one’s personal computer data via the Internet from anywhere in the world, indoors or out, by using, for example, a handheld computer and a mobile phone.