The use of nanorobots in fighting cancer could be the biggest engineering feat of the next 30 years, according to readers of New Scientist in a competition partnered by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

‘Nanorobots fight the medical battles of the future’, was selected by readers of the leading science weekly as the engineering project they thought would have the greatest impact on human life in the next three decades.

Sponsored by energy company Statoil, the ‘Designs for a better future’ competition attracted more than 1,100 suggestions from readers around the world. These were whittled down to just five by a judging panel including Academy fellows Dame Sue Ion and Professor Steve Furber.

The winning idea was put forward by 30-year old wine buyer Catherine McTeigue, the only non-scientist or engineer in the five-strong shortlist, and also the only woman to make the shortlist.

Catherine’s entry, which secured more than a third of the votes cast, proposed: “Say the word cancer and people are fear-ridden. Projects being undertaken to harness nanotechnology and develop nanorobots to enter into the human body and repair cancerous cells, without the need for life-changing, disfiguring and painful chemotherapy, will have the greatest impact in the next thirty years.

“Watching loved ones suffer will be a thing of the past as the robots aid speedy recoveries, mortality rates drop, and as the technology is used more frequently, so will the cost, that oft deciding factor. An enormous step forwards for all mankind, in the form of a microscopic creature.”

Catherine’s prize is a four-day trip to the high Arctic, courtesy of Statoil. She will visit the Svalbard archipelago, take a helicopter flight, tour the giant Troll gas platform and take a submersible trip to the seabed.

Academy Judge Dame Sue Ion says: “I think the winning entry demonstrates the level of interest in topics which blend different disciplines and in particular the way in which engineering and the medical sciences can be brought together to deliver results which benefit humankind. This is something the Royal Academy of Engineering has been supporting for some time through its UK focus for biomedical engineering group and systems biology initiatives.”

Notes for editors

The Royal Academy of Engineering

Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

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Ed Holmes on 0207 766 0655