News release

Date: 6th July 2021

Rapid, Lab-Free COVID-19 PCR Test Pioneer DnaNudge named winner of MacRobert Award by Royal Academy of Engineering

DnaNudge awarded UK’s most prestigious and longest-running prize for engineering innovation, in recognition of ground-breaking genetic testing and diagnostic technology

London, United Kingdom, July 6th 2021 – DnaNudge has today been announced as the winner of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2021 MacRobert Award – the most prestigious and longest-running prize for engineering innovation achievement in the UK. DnaNudge has been honoured for the development of its pioneering consumer genetics technology, which it adapted in record time to deliver a rapid, lab-free RT-PCR COVID-19 test to NHS hospitals.

Founded in 1969, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award celebrates engineering achievements that demonstrate outstanding innovation, tangible societal benefit and proven commercial success. 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.

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 and geneticist Dr Maria Karvela. DnaNudge has been at the forefront of the nation's COVID-19 efforts, providing vital testing services for NHS hospitals following a major UK government order for its CovidNudge test kits in August 2020. 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.

The latest arts institution to benefit from DnaNudge’s COVID-19 testing services is the Royal Opera House – home of The Royal Ballet and one of the world’s greatest opera companies. DnaNudge is delivering regular pool testing on-site to performers and staff at the iconic venue in Covent Garden, to support the Royal Opera House’s 2021/22 programme of live music, dance and theatre events – its first full season since 2019. The Royal Opera House joins the London Symphony Orchestra, Glyndebourne Festival and other leading arts and cultural organisations that are using DnaNudge’s rapid, lab-free RT-PCR test to support the safe re-opening of the UK’s cultural sector as the UK’s lockdown restrictions begin to be lifted.

The CovidNudge rapid test technology was adapted from DnaNudge’s existing consumer DNA testing service, developed to address nutrition and lifestyle-influenced health conditions affecting people across the world, such as hypertension, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.  DnaNudge has created the world’s first service to use consumers’ own DNA plus lifestyle factors to ‘nudge’ people towards healthier and more personalised choices while shopping. The DnaNudge Nutrition service analyses and maps users’ genetic profile to key nutrition-related health traits such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol – enabling customers to be guided by their DNA towards healthier eating.

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."

DnaNudge’s Lab-in-Cartridge innovation – jointly developed with TTP in Cambridge – allows consumers to provide a simple cheek swab in-store or posted from home. In just over an hour, DnaNudge’s NudgeBox portable analyser maps the user’s genetic profile to key nutrition-related health traits. Using the wrist-worn DnaBand – which also measures sitting time – or using the DnaNudge mobile app, people are then able to scan food products sold in UK supermarkets to find out whether the nutritional contents are a good match for their individual biology, effectively shopping with your DNA and lifestyle.

The ground-breaking DnaNudge testing platform – the foundation for both DnaNudge’s nutrition service and COVID testing solution – is a multiplex technology, with 72 different testing wells available on a single testing cartridge. This offers the ability to simultaneously test for every published COVID-19 gene and all known variants, FluA, FluB, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), plus markers indicating genetic risk for key health conditions including hypertension and obesity – all on the same testing cartridge.

Professor Chris Toumazou FREng FRS FMedSci, co-founder & CEO of DnaNudge and founder and Chief Scientist of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London 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.”

In 2020, Professor Toumazou was honoured with The Royal Academy of Engineering President's Special Award for Pandemic Service in recognition of DnaNudge’s exceptional achievement in developing the CovidNudge RT-PCR test.


Notes to editors

MacRobert Award for engineering innovation

First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award is widely regarded as the most coveted in the industry, honouring the winning organisation with a gold medal and the team members with a cash prize of £50,000. Founded by the MacRobert Trust, the award is presented and run by the Royal Academy of Engineering, with support from the Worshipful Company of Engineers.

The MacRobert Award finalist teams:

Creo Medical: Chris Hancock, CTO & Founder, Craig Gulliford, CEO, Steve Morris, former COO, Dr Nuwan Dharmasiri, Principal RF and Microwave Engineer, Sandra Swain, Principal Engineer.
DnaNudge: Professor Christofer Toumazou FREng FRS, CEO, Dr Maria Karvela, CSO, Dr Caroline Golden, Clinical Research Manager, Josef Cicinski, UK Retail Store Manager, David West, COO.
PragmatIC: Scott White, CEO, Richard Price, CTO, Ken Williamson, COO, Catherine Ramsdale, SVP Technology, Neil Davies, VP Process.

The MacRobert Award 2021 Judging Panel

Professor Sir Richard Friend FREng FRS (Chair of judges)

Former Cavendish Professor of Physics, University of Cambridge; Founder, Cambridge Display Technology

Naomi Climer CBE FREng

Non Executive Director; Former President Media Cloud Services, Sony; Vice President, Royal Academy of Engineering

Dr Andy Harter CBE DL FREng

Chairman, Cambridge Network; Founder and Group CEO, RealVNC

Professor Nick Jennings CB FREng

Vice-Provost (Research and Enterprise), Imperial College London

Professor Dame Julia King, The Baroness Brown of Cambridge DBE FREng FRS

Chair, The Carbon Trust

Professor Gordon Masterton DL OBE FREng FRSE

Chair of Future Infrastructure, University of Edinburgh; Former Vice-President, Jacobs

Professor Sir John McCanny CBE FREng FRS

Regius Professor of Electronics and Computer Engineering, Queen's University Belfast Professor

Phil Nelson CBE FREng

Professor of Acoustics, University of Southampton

Dr Liane Smith FREng

Director, Larkton Ltd; former SVP Digital Solutions, Wood Group

Professor Sir Saeed Zahedi OBE RDI FREng

Technical Director, Blatchford; Visiting Professor, University of Bournemouth

About DnaNudge (

DnaNudge is the developer of the world’s first service to use consumers’ own DNA plus lifestyle factors to nudge people towards healthier choices while shopping. The DnaNudge service analyses and maps users’ genetic profile to key nutrition-related health traits such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol, enabling customers to be guided by their DNA towards healthier eating. The service has been developed by world-renowned biomedical engineer Regius Professor Chris Toumazou FRS and published geneticist Dr Maria Karvela.

This ground-breaking in-store DNA testing service created to address an epidemic – obesity and Type 2 diabetes – has now been successfully adapted for the fight against a pandemic, with the development of the rapid, lab-free CovidNudge RT-PCR test. CovidNudge can accurately detect COVID-19 and other viruses in just over an hour, without the need for a laboratory, and is now in use in the UK’s National Health Service.

About the Royal Academy of Engineering (

The Royal Academy of Engineering is harnessing the power of engineering to build a sustainable society and an inclusive economy that works for everyone.

In collaboration with our Fellows and partners, we’re growing talent and developing skills for the future, driving innovation and building global partnerships, and influencing policy and engaging the public.

Together we’re working to tackle the greatest challenges of our age.

For further information please contact:
PRESS CONTACT for DnaNudge: Nicky Denovan EvokedSet PR Email: nicky[at]evokedset[dot]com Phone: +44 (0) 118 328 2782 PRESS CONTACT for The Royal Academy of Engineering: Jane Sutton, Head of Media and Engagement Email: jane[dot]sutton[at]raeng[dot]org[dot]uk Phone: +44 207 766 0636

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