Fort’s Femi lands prestigious engineering fellowship

NO F51 Femi Johnson

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A former Lochaber High School pupil has landed another prestigious award to add to her already long list of growing achievements in the field of engineering.

Femi Johnson, 29, a MEng Mechanical Engineering graduate from Heriot-Watt University, has been awarded the prestigious Enterprise Fellowship by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Alongside Professor Bob Reuben, Ms Johnson is co-founder and, additionally, technical director, of Heriot-Watt spin-out IntelliPalp Dx, which has developed a medical diagnostic device aimed at revolutionising the way men are screened for prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, with as many as one in eight developing the disease during their lifetime.

The device provides increased accuracy in early stage testing and aims to deliver improvements in diagnosis techniques with initial trials demonstrating that the technology not only delivers a more efficient diagnosis but also reduces patient anxiety about prostate examinations.

The award is just the latest in a long list of achievements for Ms Johnson who, throughout the past two years, has worked as a research associate on diagnostic palpation devices.

Most recently she co-led bids to secure pre-seed funding from the Scottish Enterprise High Growth Ventures Programme and a £75,000 award from Scottish EDGE, the UK’s biggest funding competition which is aimed at small businesses with high growth potential.

That award will be utilised to accelerate the development of the ProstaPalp device, technology which presents an incredible opportunity to improve prostate cancer screening for both doctors and patients.

The Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship programme supports innovative, creative entrepreneurial engineers who have demonstrated an exceptional innovation in engineering which they want to develop further.

Awardees are given access to a network of expert advisors, ready to equip individuals with the confidence and skills required to take their innovation forward.

Ms Johnson grew up in Fort William where her family is well known. Her late mother, Emmy Donaldson, also grew up in the town but sadly passed away in 2016 when Ms Johnson was still in her fourth year of university.

However, her maternal grandparents, Ian and Tordis Donaldson, still live in Fort William and Ms Johnson paid tribute to them for their support of both her and her career.

Asked why she opted for a career in engineering, Ms Johnson told the Lochaber Times  she had always loved the sciences when she was in school, physics in particular, but had lived in Edinburgh for a few years before deciding to study engineering.

She explained: ‘I loved the idea of applying scientific principles to real world problems and this led me to a degree in mechanical engineering at Heriot-Watt University.’

‘I became quite passionate about biomedical engineering during my masters year; I thought it was amazing how medical devices and technology could change peoples lives and I decided it was something I wanted to be a part of.

‘I started working on the ProstaPalp device when it was still a research project at the university and I was hired as a full-time research associate when I graduated in 2018.

‘I was amazed by the potential the ProstaPalp had to significantly improve the diagnostic pathway for prostate cancer and I knew I wanted to be a part of the commercialisation process to get the technology out into the world where it could help so many people.

‘In 2020 my co-founders and myself incorporated IntelliPalp Dx to bring the ProstaPalp device to market and we have been trying to gain as much traction this year as possible despite certain limitations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘I’ve been continuing my work on the technical development of the ProstaPalp Prototype preparing for large-scale clinical trials in 2021, alongside developing my own entrepreneurial skills.

‘When I found out I’d been successful in my application for an Enterprise Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering I was absolutely ecstatic. To be selected for such a prestigious award was incredibly humbling for myself as an entrepreneur and an engineer, but also to gain recognition for the potential of the ProstaPalp device is amazing.

‘My fellowship begins on  January 1 and runs for one year but I will have lifetime access to the enterprise hub in the Royal Academy of Engineering, which is an unbelievable opportunity – I can’t wait to get started!’