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Alzheimer’s discovery crowned overall Curtinnovation winner

Media release

A ground-breaking Curtin-led research project that discovered a possible cause of Alzheimer’s disease has been crowned the overall winner at the 2022 Curtinnovation Awards.

The project, led by John Curtin Distinguished Professor John Mamo, Associate Professor Ryusuke Takechi and Dr Virginie Lam from the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute (CHIRI), found in mouse models that Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent form of dementia globally, was caused by leakage from blood into the brain of fat-carrying particles transporting toxic proteins.

The annual Curtinnovation Awards recognise Curtin’s commitment to transforming exceptional research into new products and services that benefit the community, with leading research acknowledged across Curtin’s Faculties of Science and Engineering, Health Sciences, Business and Law and Humanities, as well as Learning and Teaching, and International. This year, two new categories – Trailblazer and Student Prize – have been added.

Curtin University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Chris Moran said the winning Alzheimer’s research project was an example of how high-quality research can benefit the wider community through commercialisation.

“The research by Professor Mamo and his team has significant implications for people living with Alzheimer’s disease. The ground-breaking discovery of the “blood-to-brain” pathway and the promising results of the cardiovascular drug probucol offers potential new prevention and treatment opportunities for patients,” Professor Moran said.

“The researchers are now conducting a clinical trial to test if probucol stabilises the cognitive performance in patients with early Alzheimer’s, and a provisional patent for the novel pro-drug formulation, developed by the Curtin team, has been filed.”

Some of the other award winners include a world-first digital product that can deliver bank guarantees at half the cost typically charged by major banks; a mental health app which enables women to seek appropriate wellness support; an automated drilling fluid system designed to help mining companies improve the efficiency, cost, environmental impact and safety of their drilling activities; and an app for the South West Aboriginal Medical Service (SWAMS) and their patients to access telehealth and health promotion information 24-hours a day, while also helping to increase digital literacy and technology education among Aboriginal users.

Professor Moran congratulated all the other winners for being recognised in their respective categories.

“From an online suicide prevention tool for university students and a new device to identify iron deficiency in patients, to an algorithm that analyses drilling data and an innovative chemical process that enables sodium borohydride to be cost-effectively recycled from sodium metaborate, this year’s winners are clear examples of how turning research findings into a real-world product or service can offer significant benefits to the wider community,” Professor Moran said.

The winners from the 2022 Curtinnovation Awards include:

  • Overall winner – 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.

Video: https://youtu.be/S3JqiGiWrfc

  • Faculty of Health Sciences winner – SWAMSmob app: a digital health platform for the South West Aboriginal Medical Service and their patients

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

Video: SWAMSmob App – YouTube

  • Faculty of Science and Engineering winner – 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, and Dr Yu Liu

Video: https://youtu.be/tCwrZEyXl4w

  • Faculty of Business and Law winner – 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 four to six 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)

Link: https://youtu.be/U2zGbRn0ivs

  • Faculty of Humanities winner – HerHelp

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 per cent growth in users will be gained within the first year of launch. 

Team: Ms Alexis McDonald, Mr Geoff Upston, Ms Sharon Upston

Video: HerHelp – YouTube

  • Learning and Teaching winner – Online suicide prevention 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 one per cent 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, lifesaving care. 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

Video: https://youtu.be/iL8JpHGZkC4

  • International Prize – Targeting the world’s most prevalent deficiency disease: a point of care testing device for rapid diagnosis of iron deficiency – the POCT-ID

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, John Curtin Distinguished Professor Tele Tan, Professor Linley Lord, Mr Tim Cushway, and Dr Nasrin Manesh.

Video: https://youtu.be/VVuPKe-cWZA

  • Student Prize – 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

Video: https://youtu.be/-UhOBLSSRJM

  • Trailblazer prize – 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 downtime 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, Alton Grabsch

Video: https://youtu.be/etpr46vh9mI