Interview with Prof Tony Cass


Elio and Tobie met with Tony Cass to discuss his role as Deputy Director and a Research Director in the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London.

Having originally trained as a chemist, Cass is also a Professor of Chemical Biology at Imperial, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry. We focused on his work within the institute, which is based in a new facility aimed at fostering a multi-disciplnary research environment. It creates a physical space for workers from the faculties of Engineering, Medicine and Natural sciences to meet and to share resources.

Tony Cass


Some key themes emerged from the interview, and are documented below.

There are a number of video clips from the discussion shown below. These are split into the areas described above.

Click to see movies, Quicktime 7 is required.

If you have any comments or questions about these clips, you can visit the forum.


1 What is the Institute of Biomedical Engineering?

Tony Cass


The Institute (5.3 MB)

When and why the Institute of Biomedical Engineering was set-up.


Two Aspects (7.5 MB)

Biomedical engineering provides solutions for health care, while learning from biological systems.


No silos (16.2 MB)

How the Institute was designed to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboation.


Flexible spaces (14.8 MB)

Laboratories and work-spaces are pooled and shared rather than being allocated to particular departments.


Three roles (19 MB)

Cass describes his roles as a co-ordinator for Biomedical engineering research, his administrative work as deputy director of the institute, and as a researcher focusing on biosensing applications for healthcare.

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2 Research activity and culture at the institute

Tony Cass


Research areas (13 MB)

Those using the facilities will be engaged in areas of research including tissue engineering, medical robotics, bionics and nano-scale applications.


Challenges (5.1 MB)

The first year of the institute has shown that there are differences in the language and culture between departments.


Advantages (5.3 MB)

It also means multi-disciplinary teams can be introduced more rapidly as a result of sharing space and becoming familiar with each others work.


Pull and push (9.6 MB)

Projects tend to be suggested by the reqiuirement of clinicians, or flow from a technological innovation.


Outcomes (12 MB)

Research ultimately leads to new clinical devices and intellectual property, which crete income to support the institute


Funding model (7 MB)

This funding model is different from traditional academic funding where grants are sought on an ad-hoc basis


Spin-outs (4.7 MB)

The founding members of the institute recognised the importance of linking research to business innovation.


Ear Implant (13.1 MB)

A miniturised and implantable hearing aid is an example of how technology from electrical engineering can be translated as a medical innovation.

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3 How is engineering different to science?

Tony Cass


Engineering (18.9 MB)

Engineers can can be described as scientists who build things, transforming their scientific understanding of the world into applications.


Synthetic approaches (11 MB)

Differences between life sciences and bio-engineering, which has a emphasis on quantitative reification, rather than the descriptive tendancy of biology.


Scalpel and pill (17.2 MB)

Medical treatment is largely either surgical or pharmaceutical, whereas new therapies like tissue-enginnering take place at cellular scales, inbetween the scales of the scalpel and the pill.

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4 Public views on nanothechnology in biomedical engineering

Tony Cass


Nano-threat (11 MB)

The percieved threats of nanothechnology often arise from a misunderstanding that it allows entirely new forms of threat.


Shock of the new (7.8 MB)

While all technologies carry an associated risk, the older the technology the more tolerable the risk.


Engaging with publics (26.7 MB)

The Nanotechnology community takes public concerns seriously, and this dialogue is bourne out of the problems raised by a lack of public consultation around the commercialisation of GM crops and food.

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5 Biomedical engineering offers new forms of healthcare

Tony Cass


Medical benefits (19 MB)

There is a dgree of public acceptance over research technologies leading to improved healthcare because the benefits are clear.


Changing healthcare (5.6 MB)

Healthcare has shifted to diseases associated with old age, rather than the infectious diseases or trauma more common 100 years ago.


Self moitoring (8.3 MB)

Self monitoring systems offer the potential for individuals to take more responsibility for their own health.


Consumer centred approaches (4 MB)

Consumer approaches to healthcare could provide additional support, rather than replace current systems of medical care.


Social Interaction (23.1 MB)

While it's clear there are benefits from social and psychological interactions, there is also a need for objective feedback on the condition of the body.


Numerical data (14.2 MB)

Numerical measurements of what the body is doing need to be presented to consumers in an understandable form.


Softer therapies (10.5 MB)

Invasive therapies like implants might be replaced with softer therapies, including monitoring leading to earlier diagnoses, and tissue engiineering.

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6 Building bridges between biological and enginnered materials

Tony Cass


Hybrid devices (12.6 MB)

It is becoming possible to create hybrids by combining electronics and biology.


Biomimicry (22.5 MB)

While biological solutions are not always the best solutions, a deeper understanding of biology will improve how man-made systems are built.


Not random (4 MB)

Engineering is not a random process.


Precise or robust (10.8 MB)

Man made things become might become less precise, and more robust.

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7 A quick tour of the institute

Tony Cass


Robot Surgeon (33.6 MB)

A surgical robot allows surgeons to operate on patients remotely.


Monitor (10.8 MB)

A health monitoring suite for testing home-care applications


Salivary Sensors (5.9 MB)

Patients saliva can be used for diagnosing problems without giving blood samples.


Clean Room (5.1 MB)

A protected room for combining silicon and biological materials.


Nano Lab (5.7 MB)

The smaller the object being worked with, the larger the instruments tend to be.


Nano Writer (12.9 MB)

Nano lithography allows molecules to be written, creating tiny surfaces and patterns.

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Intervew by Elio and Tobie on 6th June 2007.