Tag Archives: Australia Scientific research

Understanding athletes’ immune function to optimise performance

With the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games looming in 2018, a key concern for athletes will be how to prevent illness from interfering with their training and performance.

This is the focus of new research at Griffith University. Partnering with the Australian Institute of Sport to examine the effects of exercise on the immune system in order to help athletes compete at their best, the research team say that illness during competition can destroy years of effort and dedication.

“On average, highly trained athletes spend 8 to 12 years training to compete at their best,” says Professor David Pyne from Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland (MHIQ).

“Given the time, effort and financial considerations made by athletes, their coaches and support staff, there is a need to find ways to keep athletes healthy during heavy training, travel and competition.”

Dr Nic West
Dr Nic West

Susceptibility to illness

Professor Allan Cripps, a leading immunology researcher at MHIQ has worked with Pyne and Dr Nic West in a bid to understand why athletes seem prone to illness during heavy training and competition.

“There is evidence that endurance exercise compromises immune function and increases illness in some athletes,” says West. “Intensive exercise, particularly endurance exercise, such as triathlon, long distance swimming and ironman events, can be associated with exercise-induced immune suppression where the number and function of immune cells is decreased and their ability to respond to challenge is lowered.”

For the current study the research team is seeking highly trained male triathletes and iron men between the ages of 18-35 years who undertake 12 hours or more exercise per week.

Athletes will have their immune, gut microbiota and metabolic systems profiled and compared with non-athletes.

A significant benefit of the study is that participants will receive information regarding the status of their own immune function that can be used to tailor individual training programs.

The study is taking place at Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus.

“We hope that participation and knowledge gained from this study will help elite and non-elite athletes to attain their performance goals,” says Pyne.

This article was first published by Griffith University on 16 June, 2015.

Help to combat pest animals is only a click away

The toolkit is a one-stop shop of practical knowledge to arm farmers and land managers with the information and connections they need to combat pest animals.

IA CRC digital communications manager Keryn Lapidge said, “We are pleased to have the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, officially launch PestSmart Connect today, recognising this as an important knowledge hub for tackling pest animal problems such as wild dogs, which have become a really big economic and social issue for Australian farmers.”

The website also links to the FeralScan website and app which provides people with the capability to map pest animal sightings and damage and then to use this information to track and control the problem.

“This website is really strong on connecting people and communities. A feature is the ‘connect’ portal which aims to provide contact details of agencies, organisations and groups that are active in pest animal management and can provide people with services, useful advice or assistance – at a practical on-ground level, but also at a policy level,” she said.

The PestSmart Connect website features pest animal species that are a having a major impact on biodiversity and agriculture in Australia including wild dogs, foxes, feral cats, rabbits and carp. There are handy glovebox guides, videos about trapping and baiting, case studies and links to assistance.

“We hope this will be a useful knowledge hub for farmers and land managers and we plan to continue to improve the resource over time,” Lapidge said.

The PestSmart Connect website www.pestsmart.org.au is the culmination of ten years of information gathering and research by the IA CRC – Australia’s largest integrated pest animal management research organisation.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, launches the PestSmart Connect website - a handy toolkit of pest animal management information for farmers and land managers.
Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, launches the PestSmart Connect website – a handy toolkit of pest animal management information for farmers and land managers.









This article was first published by the Invasive Animals CRC on 16 June, 2015.

Taking medical device from design to life saver

When paramedics or emergency personnel discover a patient who has suffered massive facial or airway trauma, often in situations like a car crash, they may have to perform a cricothyrotomy, which involves stabbing a tube into the patient’s throat so they can breath.

It’s a procedure you want them to get right.

But in these life-threatening situations a paramedic or doctor may have only ever performed the procedure on a training device. It’s therefore doubly important that this device teaches them the correct technique in an accurate and realistic way it’s life or death.

Many doctors will now be training for complicated cricothyrotomies on a German-built Crico Trainer called ‘ADELAIDE’ designed by Robert White and Daniel Weiss in South Australia.

“The procedure, it’s not something that most doctors will have to use,” says White, one half of the WHITE + WEISS design team.

“No one really wants to stick a tube through your throat, but if you need it, they need to know how to do it properly, to prevent you from dying.”

A cricothyrotomy involves sticking a needle and cannula through the Adam’s apple, inserting a guide wire through the cannula in to the windpipe, removing the cannula, making a small incision at the base of the guide wire, threading a Melker Crico kit (an airway catheter and curved dilator) on to the wire, and finally removing the wire  thus clearing the patient’s airway.

Medical students practice the procedure on any number of trainers, simulators and manikins, but as Daniel Weiss says, they are not all very realistic.

“Beyond just the student learning it, it’s about muscle memory,” says Weiss. “In an emergency when you don’t have time to think, you need your muscle memory to work.”

The realistic Crico Trainer ADELAIDE was conceived by White and Weiss during their Masters of Industrial Design at the University of South Australia in 2012. It’s a practical course with real clients who have real design problems.

“This particular project started with the University of Adelaide medical school. They teach their students all sorts of procedures on all sorts of medical trainers. They found that there’s a number of these trainers they weren’t happy with,” White explains.

White and Weiss both decided to tackle the cricothyrotomy device, although they were working separately at the time. They were put in touch with Dr Chris Acott, the Southern Hemisphere’s foremost throat and neck expert.

The two designers attended Dr Acott’s workshops at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, training with doctors, seeing how they use the simulators and using them themselves. They had access to Dr Acott’s collection of Crico Trainers, many of which they realised were “pretty average”.

“The existing trainers were pretty basic,” says White. “There was a basic neck shape with an Adam’s apple and a skin that stretches over the top. They were missing obvious stuff  like a chin  which seems like a really basic thing.”

As they watched some doctors insert a tube and the designers realised they were coming in at an angle that would be impossible on a real person because the chin would be in the way.

“Dr Acott would catch it and remind them that they’d have to come in at an angle,” says White. “But if an instructor missed that, they student is going to learn that procedure incorrectly.”

After eight weeks of designing their individual versions of an improved Crico Trainer, White and Weiss took their prototypes to Dr Acott. He liked aspects of both, and suggested they combine the two.

In 2013 the men decided to continue the project outside of their Masters course, receiving a grant from ITEK, the University of South Australia’s commercialisation arm, to develop a prototype.

They worked through eight prototypes with Dr Acott before arriving at a model everyone was happy with.

It was a significant improvement on the available devices. The chin was an obvious addition, but many other smart touches also improved the usability and accuracy of the trainer.

“It was very cumbersome to put the skin on the old devices,” says White. “Ours is slotted where it can slip through and pull taut. You can use it again and again. We also added multiple layers of skin to add more realism.”

Crico Trainer ADELAIDE

Feel is an important part of the procedure – doctors have to find the Adam’s apple quickly and accurately to perform a cricothyrotomy. The team also added additional layers of skin and a squishy adhesive layer to enhance the feel.

“A lot of simulators are designed to simulate the perfect case scenario,” Weiss says. “But you’re not going to be looking at the perfect 30 year old male every time  there might be damage or irregularities. That’s something we tried to incorporate, making the throat adjustable.”

Once the device was finished, ITEK started to shop the idea around to medical simulation companies. German company VBM Medizintechnik GmbH took an interest.

A licensing agreement was written up, and VBM redeveloped their Crico Trainer from the ground up based on White and Weiss’ design. With a nod to the simulator’s South Australian origins, they named the trainer ADELAIDE, after the capital city of the state, and attached a label crediting White + Weiss and the University of South Australia for the design.

The team also won a number of awards for their design. They received a Gold Student Award from the Design Institute of Australia, a Premier’s Award from the Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill, and were national finalists in the James Dyson awards last year.

White + Weiss are working together again, this time employed by the University of South Australia as industrial designers at the Hills Innovation Centre at the industry cluster Tonsley.

Their current project is a nurse call device for aged care residents living with arthritis. Current devices are ill suited for elderly people with dexterity issues.

“They can use this type of device ten to thirty times a day. Most have small, fiddly buttons. They can have a lot of difficulty pressing it,” White says.

Their device doesn’t have a traditional button but rather a soft, flexible silicon bulb with an air pressure switch. Residents can squeeze it with minimal dexterity, use their whole hand or press it against an object. It’s an attractively designed device that lights up when activated – the result of nearly a year’s work.

“It’s currently making its way towards production. It should be underway in the next couple of months, once the tooling is ordered and underway. It should be in production and on the market later this year.”

– Jack Baldwin

This article was first published on The Lead South Australia on 4 June, 2015.

Open your mind

Back in 1990, the internet was just a twinkle in the eye of a few scientists at The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Mobile phones were awkward bricks wielded by showy stockbrokers. Personal computers had not yet made the transition from the office to the home.

Fast forward 25 years, and more people have access to mobile phones than working toilets. Technology has revolutionised global communications, culture and business. Video chat software Skype has more than 300 million active users.

While three billion of us already have internet access, Google plans to supply the rest using high-altitude balloons (Project Loon) and solar powered drones (Project Titan) to beam wi-fi across developing nations.

Even language is no longer the barrier it used to be, with the advent
of real-time translation technologies enabling communication without a human translator. As of January 2015, we are using Google Translate to make one billion translations per day.

So what do the next 25 years have in store? “The general trend is that technology is becoming more and more a part of everyday life,” says Professor Rafael Calvo, a software engineer at the University of Sydney. While some are questioning how technology may be affecting us adversely, Calvo is researching how computers may
be able to contribute positively to our mental health. “Positive computing is changing the design of technologies to take into account the wellbeing and happiness of people,” he says.

For example, games have been designed to encourage ‘pro-social’ behaviours. In one study at Stanford, researchers built a game where players were either given the power to fly like Superman or take a virtual helicopter ride. After playing, the participants who had the superpower were more likely to help someone in need.

Though computers are traditionally seen to have a blindspot for emotions, recent advances are paving the way for computers to notice and adapt to our moods – a phenomenon called affective computing. “Some new cameras have a setting where they only take a photo when you smile,” says Calvo.

Calvo’s team has developed software to assist moderators of Australia’s leading online youth mental health service, ReachOut.com. It can detect when someone is depressed, and possibly at risk of suicide, and alert a human moderator. His group has also teamed up with the Young and Well CRC to build an online hub where young people can download apps to help improve their wellbeing.

For Calvo, this technology represents a transformation in how software is being made – aiming to improve wellbeing, not just productivity. “Our work is centred on influencing how people develop software. Australia leads the world in this field.”

New technologies could also change the way we learn, says Professor Judy Kay from the University of Sydney. Kay and her team are exploring the use of touchscreen tabletops in the classroom as tools for students to work together. They can also help teachers monitor each group’s work. “This technology can distinguish the actions and speech of each person in a group to determine how well the group is progressing and how well they collaborate,” she says.

The movie Her presents a future in which we will have intelligent virtual personal assistants to help organise our lives. We can already tell Siri to “Call Mum” or ask Google if we need an umbrella today. But this is only the beginning.

Meet Anna Cares. She’s a friendly brunette who lives inside your tablet or smartphone as an intelligent virtual agent. Developed by Clevertar (a spin-out from the computer science labs at Flinders University), Anna is being developed for the aged care space. She can already remind you to take your medication and give timely advice based on the weather.

Dr Martin Luerssen is an artificial intelligence specialist from Flinders who works on the project. He says intelligent assistant technology has been enabled by the convergence of several advances over the past 10 years, including astonishing progress in computational and sensing capabilities, as well as speech and language technologies. Meanwhile, affective computing approaches are bringing improvements to understanding human gestures and expressions.
“This enables us to create very natural, human-like interactions,” says Luerssen.

“By 2040, we expect that there will be more Australians retired than working – we cannot afford not to have this kind of technology,” adds Professor David Powers from Flinders.

We already use voice-operated technology, but now an app called Focus, developed by the Smart Services CRC, enables you to interact hands-free with a smartphone using eye movement alone – for example, you can increase font size with the blink of an eye.

“Australia leads the world in this field.”

By 2040, it is plausible we will be able to control computers with our minds using brain-computer interfaces (BCI), such as a cap covered in electrodes that can transmit brainwaves to a computer via electroencephalogram (EEG). In 2006, technology by BrainGate enabled patients with total ‘locked-in’ syndrome (where a patient is aware but cannot move or communicate verbally due to paralysis) to move a computer cursor just by thinking, thereby giving them a way to communicate. In 2010, Australian entrepreneur Tan Le unveiled a commercially available EEG headset, enabling anyone with careful concentration to give their computer simple instructions with their thoughts.

But the process is slow. “At the moment, typing with BCI can take seconds per character,” says Powers. Flinders University researchers are working on new technologies where users can type by thinking of words rather than just characters, speeding up the process.

In a field where the sudden emergence of a new technology can change the entire landscape in just a year or two, who knows how we will be communicating in 2040?

“One thing I can say with confidence is that we are very bad at predicting the future!” says Kay.

– Cathal O’Connell



Science Australia’s business heart

The outcome is loud and clear, the government wants to use CRCs to put science at the heart of Australian business.

CRCs will remain a feature of the Australian innovation landscape. The government only wants to support CRCs that are highly industry focused and only for a single term of up to 10 years. The application process is going to simplified to make it easier and more attractive for business to bid for a CRC.

In a bold and exciting move, they’ll be a new stream in the CRC Program called CRC-Projects (CRC-P). These will again address highly focussed industry issues but at a smaller, more nimble level than a full CRC (which are generally 7 year enterprises of maybe $100 million of activity). CRC-Ps will be up to three years, up to $3.0 million of government support and will be open for application three times a year. This is a huge development to open the CRC Program up more readily to smaller businesses and more specific projects.

Reviewer David Miles recommendations are aimed to discourage CRCs going on for very long terms. While this is a big concern for those addressing long-term innovation issues, the intent is to make the CRC concentrate on solving the problem at hand and exiting, leaving the industry players better off. This is a particularly interesting approach from Mr Miles because, prior to the commencement of his review, there was one train of thought that success in a CRC meant an ongoing body. The previous Parliamentary Secretary, Bob Baldwin, had publicly asked why more CRCs don’t continue as self-sufficient organisations beyond their government funding period?

Miles downplays the importance of an ongoing organisation in his review, making it clear that the real benefits from a CRC come when the industry players involved implement the research.

Miles also sees the industry training role of CRCs as very effective and important, encouraging more of them to do more in training postgraduates for industry roles.

CRCs that are not specifically aimed at solving industry issues are the potential losers in this Review. Time and again, the review says industry should be “front and centre” of the CRC program, arguing that when the Program tries to do everything, it achieves less. But Miles holds out a possible future for “non-industry” CRCs, encouraging other Government departments to directly fund CRCs through the Department of Industry and Science, Miles points out that this happens already (the Department of Defence funds the Defence Materials Technology Centre through the CRC Program). He points out that the CRC model works and is effective, but the Industry Department shouldn’t have to front for the cost of CRCs outside its portfolio area.

So while it is disappointing that some important areas of research may not qualify for CRCs anymore, the government is leaving the door open for other government departments to participate in the CRC Program.

For Australian business, the CRC Program should become more flexible and simpler for them to get involved in.

Dr. Tony Peacock

Chief Executive

Cooperative Research Centres Association


Medicine by design

IT’S 2040. Jane taps her foot nervously, waiting for her smart watch to link to her oncologist via video. Her cancer-screening blood test (routine at age 45) has found circulating tumour cells. Jane is about to find out what type of cancer she has and what her next steps will be.

Her watch beeps, but it’s not the oncologist. Her health app bursts onto the screen telling her she’s been sitting for too long. Time to get up and move for five minutes… Does she want to listen to dance music? Jane’s not in the mood, but she gets up and paces the room.

Miranda, the oncologist, has most of her patient consultations via online telehealth video conferencing. Her first step following Jane’s blood screen result was to download her patient’s genome. Then she ran a computer program to compare Jane’s genome with the set of blood test results that showed she has breast cancer; revealing its type and the cancer cells’ DNA sequence.

Using data from hundreds of thousands of breast cancer cases worldwide, the program helps Miranda devise an optimised treatment program for Jane. She presses the button to begin the consultation.

Miranda breaks the news gently. Cancer is a worry, of course, she says. But things are so much better than they were 25 years ago. She is confident the imaging will find a tiny primary tumour, which can be removed – in a surgical procedure known as a lumpectomy – and then Jane will have drug therapy for several years, with few side effects, to dramatically reduce the chance of the cancer spreading (metastasising).

Most people beat breast cancer nowadays and there is usually no need for chemotherapy, Miranda reassures her.

“One in two of us will get cancer and one in five of us will die from cancer. One of the challenges at the moment is what’s called ‘treating the undetectable’.”

Science fiction? Yes. But it certainly may become science fact, according to Dr Warwick Tong, CEO of the Cancer Therapeutics CRC (CTx), and Professor Bob Cowan, Chief Executive Officer of the HEARing CRC.

Mopping up cancer

In Tong’s view, blood tests – or ‘liquid biopsies’ – to screen for all types of cancers will become routine. The basic technology already exists, at least for colorectal cancer, he explains.

Tong is spearheading a new approach to cancer drug therapy. While most chemotherapy drugs shrink secondary tumours that result from metastasis, CTx is working on ‘mopping up’ cells that migrate from the original tumour at a very early stage.

“One in two of us will get cancer and one in five of us will die from cancer – and 90% of those deaths are caused by vast metastatic spread,” he says. “One of the challenges at the moment is
what’s called ‘treating the undetectable’. We treat primary cancer pretty well nowadays, but often the disease reoccurs years down the track.”

Drugs used in early stage cancer, alongside treatment of the primary tumour, are called ‘adjuvant’ therapies. But, Tong explains, few pharmaceutical companies are exploring adjuvants because the research is expensive and it’s difficult to prove they work. In fact, most of the few existing adjuvants – such as the drug tamoxifen, which is used for breast cancer – were developed for late cancer and have become adjuvants through chance rather than design.

“The focus of our drug discovery program is ‘adjuvant by design’”, says Tong. And it is work like this at the CTx that may lead to 2040 drugs, similar to those Jane will use.

Treating the individual

Jane’s individual treatment protocol will typify 2040 medicine, explains Cowan. “Up to now, evidence-based medicine has been founded on group analysis. But in 2040, instead of applying group statistics to an individual, we’ll be able to understand their particular risk and make treatments more personal.”

At the heart of this lies our ability to sequence a person’s DNA, which can now be done for just a few hundred dollars.

Cowan predicts that the accumulating digital information on individuals will create a “data storm” and, ironically, as individualised treatment becomes the norm, the data available for group analyses will also massively increase. “So there may be factors we have been unable to identify because of variation in the environment and gene expression, which will become clear when we start to get much larger samples,” he explains.

Drawing on his experience in hearing, Cowan foresees major advances in prosthetics. The hugely successful cochlear implant, developed in conjunction with HEARing CRC, is a prosthetic – the union of an artificial device with the human brain. “Australia leads the world in cochlear implants,” he says.

Sadly, one of the major drivers for prosthetics is war. The ravages of landmines and improvised explosive devices have brought increased funding for the development of better prosthetic limbs. The aim now is to marry the prosthetic more intimately with the individual’s own nervous system: something that requires new approaches for regenerating nerve connections.

Cowan’s vision for prosthetics is exciting: “You’ll simply think ‘pick up
the glass’ and your prosthetic arm will execute all the necessary movements as your own arm did in the past.”

creening computational specialist Rebecca Moss at the Cancer Therapeutics CRC  High Throughput Chemical Screening Lab.
Screening computational specialist Rebecca Moss at the Cancer Therapeutics CRC High Throughput Chemical Screening Lab.

Cost-effective medicine

Forecasts for 2040 predict that the
human population will include twice as many people aged 65 or over, which is concerning to Cowan because it means that a greater proportion of people will have problems with hearing and cognition.

“More and more we are going to see the need for reducing the strain
on the health system,” he says, adding that telehealth will be a very important aspect of this. “We need to deliver systems through our broadband network.” Treating more people at home, under medical supervision, rather than in hospital, is the way ahead, he says.

“We need to change the way that we do diagnosis, and involve the individual in managing their own health,” Cowan says, explaining that the technology is already here and it’s the healthcare delivery system that needs to change. “We have technology now that allows us to have a clinician based in Sydney programming a cochlear implant for a child in Samoa.”

The successful translation of Australian research into practice will be vital. “Australian basic medical research is excellent,” Cowan says. “We punch above our weight internationally. But, unless we take knowledge gained from research and translate it into a clinical application, it doesn’t make an economic return for Australia.

“To do that you need to involve clinicians from day one, which is exactly the approach of the medical CRCs.”

Clare Pain



Drone used to drop beneficial bugs on corn crop

Photograph courtesy of Ausveg and Vegetables Australia

During his Summer Science Scholarship at UQ, Mr Godfrey investigated if drones could be used to spread the beneficial Californicus mite, a predatory mite which feeds on pest leaf eating mites onto crops infected with two spotted mites.

Godfrey said two spotted mites ate chlorophyll in leaves, reducing plant vigour and crop yield.

“As corn grows, it is very difficult to walk between the crop to spread beneficial bugs,” he said.

“A drone flying over the crop and distributing the insects from above is a much more efficient and cost-effective method.”

Godfrey began his project at the Agriculture and Remote Sensing Laboratory at UQ’s Gatton Campus, learning how drones function, before spending time at Rugby Farms to gain insight into potential uses for drones.

“I built a specific drone for the project, tailoring the number of propellers, stand, and size of the motor to suit the drone’s application,” he said.

“My initial concept for the ‘Bug Drone’ came from a seed spreader, and in the end I built an attachment to the drone that can be used to spread the mites over the crop from the air.”

2015-04-29_1605Initial designs using a cylinder-shaped container to hold the mites weren’t practical as it couldn’t hold enough of the predatory mites to make the process efficient.

“I used corflute material to make a large enough storage device for the mites,” Mr Godfrey said.

“The seed spreader then acts as the distributer as it has a small motor powering it.”

The device is controlled remotely from the ground.

“We’ve tested the product at Rugby Farms and I’ve successfully proved the concept that drones can be used to spread beneficial bugs,” Mr Godfrey said.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but the most difficult part is to work out how to control the volume of bugs being distributed at the one time.

“The next step is to monitor the crops and to see what happens after the bugs have been dropped.

“Remote sensing with precision agriculture is an interesting field, and it has opened my eyes to the career opportunities in this field,” he said.

Students can study precision agriculture at The University of Queensland Gatton in a course run by Associate Professor Kim Bryceson who also manages the Agriculture and Remote Sensing Laboratory.

Eyes on the ground

Dog ‘Facebook’ to manage Aussie pest problem

Facial recognition technology is  being used by the Invasive Animals CRC  to identify, track and control  wild dog populations, which cause  significant damage to Australian farms.
Facial recognition technology is being used by the Invasive Animals CRC to identify, track and control wild dog populations, which cause significant damage to Australian farms.

It’s estimated that wild dogs cost Australian farmers more than $65 million each year – a small part of the estimated $1 billion annual price of animal pests to agriculture. Pest monitoring is an important part of ensuring control strategies are effective, and automated technologies that promise more efficient and detailed monitoring are under investigation.

Southern Downs Regional Council in Queensland is working with Australian agricultural tech company Ninox Robotics to spot wild dogs and other pests in their region. The project involves using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) equipped with thermal imaging cameras, which can map dozens of square kilometres of countryside in a few hours.

The Invasive Animals CRC (IA CRC), NSW Department of Primary Industries and CRC partners have developed camera trap technology with facial recognition software – similar to that used by Facebook to tag your friends – to identify individual dogs and help combat the wild dog problem. Initial tests in northern NSW were able to pinpoint individual dogs with 87% accuracy. The researchers are seeking further funding to turn the technology into user-friendly software for widespread use.

Future versions could monitor other pests including feral cats, and threatened species, says IA CRC researcher Paul Meek. “Technology is providing us with new opportunities to carry out research and management,” says Meek. “And it’s already changing the way we do things.”

Drones streamline cattle musters

iStock_000035347982_LargeMustering cattle on large Australian stations is a time consuming, expensive and sometimes dangerous operation. Before mustering can begin, graziers need to locate livestock using helicopters, horses, quadbikes and motorbikes, sometimes setting up remote camps.

By mapping the cattle’s location, drone technology under development by the CSIRO could potentially halve mustering costs, says project leader and farming systems specialist Dr Dave Henry. Using an off-the-shelf drone and thermal camera, the researchers accurately located cattle on the Lansdown Research Station near Townsville in 2013, and they are seeking funding for large-scale trials – the next step towards a marketable product.

“Technology is providing us with new opportunities to carry out research and management.”

Using sensors, drones could also monitor feed in paddocks, optimising animal production and minimising environmental impact. “Ultimately, graziers and land managers could manage cattle and their environment, and their whole farm business, in a more precise, timely and informed manner,” says Henry.

Satellites drive precision tractors

Precision agriculture uses sensing technologies, from satellites to drones, to help automate tasks like sowing and harvesting. The benefits of satellite positioning in agriculture are substantial, with an analysis by Allen Consulting predicting it will pump up to $28 billion into the Australian economy by 2030.

Improved satellite positioning in agriculture will yield greater navigational accuracy for unmanned farming vehicles such as drones and automated tractors.
Improved satellite positioning in agriculture will yield greater navigational accuracy for unmanned farming vehicles such as drones and automated tractors.

A collaboration including the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has developed positioning technology for a driverless tractor using GPS and the Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS). In summer trials in the Riverina, NSW, the tractor navigated rows of crops to an accuracy of 5 cm.

Existing technologies rely on mobile phone coverage and a costly, dense network of ground-based antennas called reference stations. These improve the accuracy of the machinery’s satellite-derived position from several metres to a few centimetres.

But mobile coverage and expensive antennas “are barriers to adoption in remote Australia,” says Dr Phil Collier, CRCSI research director. The researchers’ alternative requires fewer reference stations, instead transmitting position corrections to the tractor via a satellite communication channel unique to QZSS. This approach promises multiple benefits for farmers in remote areas.
Traversing the same ground each time, the tractors use less fuel and reduce erosion. The day may even come where fleets of robotic tractors work overnight, says Collier.

Managing bushfire threat

Automation can also play a major role in predicting and managing the threat of bushfires. Typically, emergency services and researchers rely upon observations by satellites, from aircraft and on the ground.

Drones could provide valuable extra data, says Dr Thomas Duff, a Bushfire & Natural Hazards CRC researcher at the University of Melbourne who specialises in simulations that predict fire behaviour. In contrast to helicopters, unmanned vehicles eliminate risks to pilots, and are cheaper and more manoeuvrable, enabling more detailed observations.

With Country Fire Authority Victoria, researchers at the CSIRO
are using drones to make observations of controlled fires for use in bushfire simulations. The RISER (Resilient Information Systems for Emergency Response) collaboration based at the University of Melbourne is monitoring grasslands to better understand how they dry out each year. Duff says this research is critical to more accurate predictions of fire behaviour.




Cell manufacturing links research and industry

CEO of the Cell Therapy Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CTM CRC) Dr Sherry Kothari said it puts promise in what she believes is the future of medicine.

“One of the biggest advantages that cell therapy holds is that it has the potential to cure. So with drugs and pharmaceuticals you tend to manage and treat conditions but you can’t generally cure them,” Kothari said.

“So the stem cell will go into the wound and it will dampen down any immune response and any inflammatory response to try and get the wound into a state where the normal skin cells can take over the healing process.”

CRC Partner the University of South Australia has a team currently working on a patch that will help cure chronic wounds.

Cell TherapyProject Leader Dr Louise Smith said chronic wounds affect sufferers for years, and sometimes decades.

“One of the ways we’re looking at healing it is by delivering stem cells to the wound to try and help it heal,” Smith said.

“So the stem cell will go into the wound and it will dampen down any immune response and any inflammatory response to try and get the wound into a state where the normal skin cells can take over the healing process.”

img - industries_health_150305_Cell Therapy_banner-2

Chronic wounds are a burden to patients and healthcare systems as they are expensive and persistent, and without treatment can lead to extreme procedures such as amputation.

Around 450 000 Australians are affected by chronic wounds, while the US government spends an estimated $25 billion per year on treatments.

Smith said the project would not have worked without the CRC pulling everything together.

“We wouldn’t have access to the specific cells, we wouldn’t have access to the companies that we’re working with, and we wouldn’t have access to the clinicians and the cleanroom facilities,” she said.

The CTM CRC takes a promising cell therapy, finds an appropriate industry partner and facilitates the therapy through the manufacturing process until it’s ready for use in patients.

Kothari said academic researchers often struggle to source funding for their projects without industry partner collaboration.

“It’s what I and many others describe as the valley of death,” Dr Kothari said.

“You’ve got your academic research which stops at a certain point and then you’ve got the big companies, but often that research is still too early for them to invest in.

Chair of the CRC’s board Dr Leanna Read said bringing down costs is crucial to the future of medicine.

“There’s always a pressure on medicine because the health system is getting more and more expensive,” Dr Read said.

“If you can bring down the costs of producing the cells you’ll be able to expand opportunities for use in clinical practice because they’ll be affordable in mainstream medicine.”

The Cell Therapy Manufacturing CRC is the only one of its kind in Australia and one in a small handful of facilities around the world.

In an effort to build up a global presence in the growing industry the centre has recently formed collaborations with two cell therapy and regenerative medicine institutions in Canada and the UK.

“We have a lot of intellectual capital and know-how here in Australia and South Australia,” Kothari said.

“What we have here is this critical mass, the expertise, the know-how and the infrastructure, so we’ve got a real chance to make it work, to put South Australia on the world stage when it comes to the development of cell therapies.”

This article was first published in The Lead.

Designing the future

Mr David Hobbs demonstrates the OrbIT Gaming System and Orby Controller to a young child. Photo courtesy of the South Australian Department of State Development.

Laura Diment and David Hobbs are both former students and now staff at the new Flinders University campus at Tonsley, a world-class facility that brings multiple disciplines of STEM research together with industry. Diment and Hobbs began their Biomedical Engineering studies within the School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics (CSEM), and have each received international acclaim for developing assistive technologies that enable children with disabilities to make the most out of the creative potential of modern software.

Hobbs, currently completing a PhD in rehabilitative engineering, has received significant attention for his work creating an accessible computer gaming system that incorporates a unique orb-shaped controller nicknamed ‘Orby’. The novel trackball controller can be operated without the need for fine motor skills. This makes it accessible for children with cerebral palsy, who are often unable to use mainstream controllers.

The novel trackball controller nicknamed 'Orby'.
The novel trackball controller nicknamed ‘Orby’.

The gaming system and 15 interactive games developed for Orby have been a huge success with the 18 families that trialled the technology, with most reporting increased social closeness for the period Orby was in their homes.

For Hobbs, whose main motivation for studying engineering is the potential to ‘give back’ to society, this is an ideal result. He is now in the processes of commercialising Orby and hopes it will eventually be available to families, though is quick to note the difficulties in finding a balance between the inevitable costs of research and development and creating an affordable end product.

It is clear, however, that Hobbs relishes the challenge; a past recipient of both Fulbright and Churchill scholarships, he is determined to keep building upon assistive capacity of the technology. Trials will soon begin investigating the potential of Orby to help in the recovery of stroke patients.

Making a splash


First-class Honours student, Laura Diment, is also keen to use her STEM skills to help people who need it most. Diment chose to spend her compulsory five-month industry placement during her third year of study at a leading rehabilitation centre in Toronto, Canada – following the footsteps of Hobbs, who mentored her exchange from back in Australia. Here, she began creating Splashboard, an art program that uses Microsoft Kinect’s infrared technology to enable children with cerebral palsy to create musical art on screen. The technology can track movement in three dimensions, allowing children to interact with buttons on screen that trigger colour tools and sound by waving their arms.

Diment, who has since won a number of awards nationally and internationally for her creation, acknowledges the benefits of the opportunity to build industry partnerships early on in her Biomedical Engineering degree. “The future really is about connecting the industry and research earlier on, because they know what’s going to be beneficial in the long run.”

From these solid foundations in research and industry, Diment looks to be building a formidable career. She starts her PhD in Oxford as a John Monash scholar later this year, where her research will focus on creating a future in which developing countries have access to the skills and expertise necessary to design their own assistive technologies, rather than having to rely on Western-developed finished products that are ‘posted across’.

Much the same as Hobbs, Diment is confident in the capacity of STEM careers to create a better world. “We are designing the future,” she says.

With such bold ambitions, it seems only fitting that these two are working in Flinders’ new campus in the Tonsley business hub. The centre is quite literally amplifying the work that STEM disciplines at Flinders are capable of; the Biomedical Engineering discipline now takes up more than double its original size in order to make the most of the opportunities in this new environment. “People can come to us or work alongside us; it’s much more flexible and approachable.” Hobbs is grateful to have had the opportunity to help shape the new campus; “It’s a once in a generational opportunity… now it’s really up to us to maximise what we’ve been given and to do the best job we can.”

Breana Macpherson-Rice

First tech-commercialisation skills study funded

The year-long study will be run by Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) – the peak body for Australian organisations and individuals in knowledge commercialisation and exchange between public sector research organisations, business and government – and gemaker – a company specialising in commercialising technology.

The key objective of this study is to provide a clear understanding of what it really takes to get new ideas generated by Australian publicly funded research organisations into society and the marketplace.

To kick start the project and help consolidate the study’s framework, a series of workshops will be hosted across five states between April and June. Technology transfer practitioners and industry stakeholders will be invited to participate in these workshops, offering both individuals and institutions an exclusive opportunity to help shape the future direction of professional development within the sector in this country, and provide foresight as to the true nature of the skill set required to effectively undertake this role going forwards.

 “There is an increasing expectation from government entities within Australia for publicly funded research organisations to improve on the conversion of research into commercial outcomes. Much like the theme of our forthcoming conference – Raising the Bar – this study will enable us as a community of practitioners to look strategically at what it means to be a commercialisation professional at a research organisation in Australia, and how we might look to improve upon how we go about our practice. We are thrilled to be awarded the Professional Standards Research Grant,” KCA Executive Officer Melissa Geue said.

KCA applied for the research grant in partnership with technology commercialisation consultancy gemaker (associate member of KCA) in late November 2014. The project team is being led by gemaker’s Commercialisation Director Athena Prib, RTTP and will be comprised of gemaker’s team of specialists in capability development and workplace competencies, as well as KCA’s Executive Officer, Melissa Geue and Vice Chair and Professional Development Leader, Dr Alastair Hick (also Director of Commercialisation at Monash University).

“We are excited to be leading the first project of its kind that will open the door for the research and commercialisation sector to connect and self reflect, and we hope this study offers a baseline for our association, KCA, to build on for years to come,” said Natalie Chapman, gemaker’s Managing Director.

Overall the study will provide insight into the different technology transfer models used across Australia and the mechanism used to equip people with knowledge of skills required by industry and research. The primary goal is to look at the skills and competencies required on both the research and business side, to undertake a skills gap analysis, and to begin to assemble a framework for professional development across the Australian research commercialisation sector.

“Knowledge exchange and commercialisation is an important area of innovation for Australia and building standards and professionalisation options for the industry is an opportunity to cement Australia’s leadership,” said Dr Deen Sanders, PSC Chief Executive Officer.

“Our role is to encourage professional standards and consumer protection and so we are pleased to support the research and commercialisation sector in taking a serious and strategic approach to building a profession in this area.”

JCU develops new standard for life jackets

surf2Researchers led by Wade Sinclair from JCU’s department of Sport and Exercise Science were given a clear brief – the vests must return an unconscious swimmer to the surface and not inhibit lifesaver tasks such as diving and swimming.

The testing found that full-sized lifejackets compliant with Standards Australia’s rigorous Level 50 standard were unusable in heavy surf. Their buoyancy and impact levels from waves were too high, making their use by lifesavers exhausting.

The JCU team tested low buoyancy devices and found they could be used more comfortably in the surf, but still reliably return a swimmer to the surface.

With no Australian Standard in place for low buoyancy devices, the JCU team conducted research, trials and analysis around Australia and then wrote a report for the SLSA and Standards Australia.

The low-buoyancy, high performance vests are designated as Standards Australia Level 25 – suitable for users such as wakeboarders and surfers who need to remain agile but also face the risk of becoming disabled in the water.

Manufacturers have used the new standard to produce ten prototype life vests. JCU is now testing them in different conditions around the country.

Anthony Bradstreet from SLSA said the organisation’s board will receive the final report on the JCU trials in May. “We need to be sensible and take a risk-based approach,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to be necessary for competitors to wear these vests in flat conditions, but their potential use in rougher conditions will still be a fairly large cultural shift.”

Mr Bradstreet said SLSA wanted JCU to produce a specification, rather than choose a specific product, as that approach would ensure multiple suppliers and encourage ongoing innovation.

He said JCU won the contract to do the testing over bigger organisations for a number of reasons. “We were aware of Wade Sinclair’s work in surf sports and he had gathered a group of very keen and eager research assistants around him. There is a lot of respect for JCU’s Sport and Exercise Science department,” he said.

*SLSA has more than 160,000 members

*About 60,000 are ‘nippers’ – children aged 5 to 13-years-old.

*The vests are expected to cost between $150 – $200