2022 Curtinnovation Awards
A total prize pool in excess of $100,000 was awarded at the Curtinnovation Awards on Friday 4th November 2022.
A novel onset pathway for Alzheimer’s: A potential target for therapies
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which is acknowledged as the World Health Organisation’s “global health priority for the 21st century”. While most Alzheimer’s research focuses on the brain, a Curtin team has identified a potential cause and therapeutic target of Alzheimer’s outside the brain. From their research, they concluded that an abnormal increase in the toxic protein amyloid-β in the blood, and subsequent accumulation in the brain, is a causal route of Alzheimer’s. The team then identified several compounds that block the blood-to-brain amyloid pathway, with the cardiovascular drug probucol showing the highest efficacy in animal models.
A clinical trial to test whether probucol stabilises the cognitive performance in patients with early Alzheimer’s is now underway, and a provisional patent has been filed for the novel pro-drug formulation of probucol that the team is developing.
Team: John Curtin Distinguished Professor John Mamo, Dr Ryusuke Takechi, and Dr Virginie Lam.
Support: National Health and Medical Research Council, Medical Research Future Fund, Curtin University, MSWA, The McCusker Charitable Foundation, Wen Giving Foundation.
Business and Law Prize
Assuro: Bank guarantees and bonds made easy
Assuro is a world-first digital bank guarantee product and management system, developed by Curtin graduate and financial analyst Leon Weston. Assuro offers an online application process that delivers bank guarantees to market at half the cost typically charged by major banks. The system replaces a 4–6-week process with an online application that can be completed in minutes, with reduced client costs and risk.
Assuro works alongside one of Australia’s premium banks, which issues guarantees generated via Assuro’s platform, with a second Australian bank now onboarding the platform. The company also offers a suite of tools that helps businesses streamline administration and tighten control of their guarantees.
In April 2022, Assuro built on its success with a finance service that enables clients to apply for unsecured finance to secure the guarantee itself – another first for bank guarantee providers – that benefits businesses by enabling working capital to remain within business operations.
Team: Mr Leon Weston (Curtin Alumni).
Support: Curtin University (Innovation Central Perth).
Developed by Curtin health sciences student Alexis McDonald, HerHelp is a mental health mobile application that enables women to access a range of on-demand wellness resources and mental health professionals – including trauma therapists, life coaches, meditation experts, personal trainers, yoga instructors, body-image experts, sexologists, relationship counsellors and nutritionists.
Alexis identified the need for professional but discreet on-demand support following market research that indicated almost two-thirds of people have thought about seeking professional help for a wellness issue but were inhibited by stigma, cost or the fear their problem was “too small”.
Launched in 2019, HerHelp quickly gained popularity and was featured in Marie Claire and The Australian and in radio and television segments as the first platform of its kind, designed specifically to support women dealing with various wellness issues. HerHelp now has more than 10,000 users. Alexis has just launched a new version of the app, working with a developer to deliver a better user interface and features, with market research suggesting a 500% growth in users will be gained within the first year of launch.
Team: Ms Alexis McDonald, Mr Geoff Upston, Ms Sharon Upston.
Science and Engineering Prize
Hydrogen export as a powder
A Curtin team has developed a chemical process and a catalyst that enables sodium borohydride to be cost-effectively recycled from sodium metaborate. Their success completes a key step in the viability of the compound sodium borohydride (NaBH4) as a green, renewable energy export.
Sodium borohydride is safer and more cost-effective than competing methods of hydrogen export such as liquid hydrogen or ammonia. As a powder, it can be added to water to release hydrogen, and the sodium metaborate by-product can then be reprocessed via the team’s new chemical process. The innovation will be of interest to Australian energy exporters and to Asian and European energy importers. The Curtin team is collaborating with the Australian company Kotai Energy, which aims to export green hydrogen to Japan.
Team: Associate Professor Mark Paskevicius, Professor Craig Buckley, Dr Terry Humphries, Dr Yu Liu.
Support: Australian Research Council (Linkage project; ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre).
iFluid: Drilling fluid automation
iFluid is an automated drilling fluid system designed to help mining companies improve the efficiency, cost, environmental impact and safety of their drilling activities.
Drilling fluid is a vital component of mineral exploration, lubricating the drill bit and stabilising and cleaning the drill hole. Currently, drilling fluid is prepared on site, with the fluid constituents, quantity and delivery time determined manually. It is a labour-intensive process that is prone to miscalculations that can lead to problems such as jammed drill rods and collapsed boreholes – and associated down-time costs. Inferior quality drill fluid also causes higher consumption of water and chemicals, and a higher safety risk and environmental impact.
The iFluid system is an automated unit comprising purpose-designed hardware and software that assesses the drilling conditions and optimises the drilling fluid in real-time. Field trials demonstrate that the system can reduce the total costs of a single borehole by tens of thousands of dollars, and iFluid is now ready to service the mineral exploration drilling market.
Team: Dr Masood Mastofi, Mr Andrew Wurst, Dr Thomas Richard, Dr Ferial Hakami, Mr Eu Kean Lim, Mr Michael McKenzie, Mr Hing Hao Chan, Mr Alton Grabsch.
Support: MinEx CRC, McKay Drilling, South32, Sandvik, BHP, Geotech Boyles, Imdex, Rio Tinto.
International Campus Prize
A Curtin cross-disciplinary research team has developed a single-step point-of-care device designed to help healthcare providers identify iron deficiency quickly and accurately. Iron deficiency (ID) is the world’s most prevalent deficiency disease, causing fatigue and eventually leading to anaemia. Undetected, ID may increase co-morbidities such as osteoporosis, and cause increased risk for viral/bacterial infection, heart failure and cancer. Unfortunately, most testing for ID is done only after patients present with anaemia, and while over-the-counter tests are available, their use is hampered by the complexity of the test and the need for results to be confirmed through pathology tests.
The Curtin team’s invention, named Iron POCT–ID, comprises a technology that measures levels of ferritin (a protein that stores iron) in a few drops of blood, and displays the correlated pathology value on a desktop device. POCT-ID is currently a prototype device. When fully developed, the device’s ability to offer routine assessment of ID at a more affordable price-point is expected to deliver a significant market-share.
Team: Professor Luke Haseler, Professor Damien Arrigan, Professor Tele Tan, Professor Linley Lord, Mr Tim Cushway, Dr Nasrin Manesh.
Support: Integrative Medical Centre, The Iron Suites (Singapore).
Teaching and Learning Prize
Online suicide prevention tool for university students
A Curtin Health Sciences team has developed an online suicide-prevention tool to identify university students who are at risk of suicide, and offer referral and intervention before they are suicidal. New approaches to identifying youth most at risk are vital to suicide interventions, with research suggesting that in the past year 1% of Australian university students have attempted suicide and more than one-quarter have thought about ending their life.
The Curtin team has developed a predictive algorithm that uses multiple factors to identify at-risk students, which is built into a screening survey that students can complete when commencing university. When the algorithm identifies a student at risk, an alert is sent to the project coordinator, and a team-member contacts the student to work together to develop safety plans and identify appropriate supports. The current pilot study at Curtin has to date helped several students with emergency, life-saving care and supported hundreds to access appropriate services. While the tool will be of interest to the entire tertiary education sector, there is potential for it to be of use in workplaces and community sectors where a high incidence of the cohort report suicidal thoughts.
Team: Professor Penelope Hasking, Dr Kealagh Robinson, Professor Peter McEvoy.
Support: Suicide Prevention Australia Research Fund, Feilman Foundation.
Orebody characterisation using machine learning and MWD data
Geotechnical engineer and Curtin PhD student Daniel Goldstein has developed a technology that rapidly analyses mining drillhole data and generates orebody knowledge insights through high-resolution models. Due to the expense of exploration drilling, inadequate geotechnical characterisation of rock masses before open-pit mining may cause inaccurate predictions that can lead to mine site instability, posing risks to safety and mine site viability.
Mr Goldstein has developed an algorithm to analyse data from a current drilling output recording method, Measure-While-Drilling (or MWD), and provide better forecasts of geotechnical conditions and identify geotechnical hazards prior to mining.
The technology will help mining engineers, geotechnical engineers and geologists in all surface mining companies where exploration and mine production drilling is employed.
The system can also utilise pre-existing datasets. The technology is currently at the stage of simulation.
Team: Mr Daniel Goldstein.
Support: Curtin University.
Health Sciences Prize
SWAMSmob is a digital health platform designed specifically for the South West Aboriginal Medical Service (SWAMS) and their patients. The app enables SWAMS patients to access telehealth and health promotion information 24-hours a day. It provides another way for SWAMS to engage and connect with the Aboriginal residents and promote wellbeing, by enabling GPs and Aboriginal healthcare workers to provide individual or group health consultations.
The app is novel in that it has been programmed for Aboriginal identity and cultural practices as well as health features. For example, the app accommodates ‘men only’ and ‘women only’ spaces. Importantly, the app will also help to increase digital literacy and technology education among Aboriginal users. Overall, the technology helps SWAMS to transform be more prepared for health challenges and to help Close the Gap.
Team: Professor Christopher Lawrence.
Support: South West Aboriginal Medical Service.