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New approaches to cancer treatment and improved nickel mining output were the winning ideas from the Grand Final ofUniQuest’s annual Trailblazer innovative ideas competition held at The University of Queensland (UQ) on 4 September 2012.

Trailblazer is run by UQ’s main research commercialisation company, UniQuest. The Grand Final engaged prize winners from university-based finals held in August at UQ, James Cook UniversityUniversity of Technology, Sydney, andUniversity of Tasmania.

UQ Diamantina Institute team led by Dr Fiona Simpson won the Staff category, and plans to use the $25,000 in prize money to develop a new diagnostic tool and drug candidate for Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)—a type of skin cancer affecting more than 80,000 Australians every year.

Mr Patrick Littlejohn, from UQ’s School of Chemical Engineering, won the $25,000 Student prize for his new method to recover valuable metals from mine waste. His idea could possibly add up to five per cent to the yearly production of nickel (or $20-40 million) that is presently lost to waste and toxic environmental liability.

UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson, said Dr Simpson and Mr Littlejohn were among 14 Grand Finalists who competed for the prize pool of $50,000 in cash prizes to further their research careers. The competition involved pitching for five minutes to a closed judging panel of commercialisation experts in the morning, then presenting the same idea as a one-minute non-disclosing speech at the awards ceremony.

“This year we introduced a 'People's Choice’ segment to the awards ceremony, which meant the audience had the opportunity to hear about 14 exciting innovations emerging from university research, then vote for the pitch they believed conveyed the most brilliant idea,” Mr Henderson explained.

“Our Trailblazer Grand Finalists this year included undergraduate students and internationally renowned academics, so although there was a mix of pitching experience, they all shared a tremendous passion for their research aims, and that came across very clearly in both the panel-judged pitches and the People’s Choice Awards.

“It’s not surprising that we ended up with a tie for the award, with UQ’s Professor Robert Henry and student Thomas Drewett sharing that honour,” Mr Henderson said.

“We congratulate the winners from this year’s Trailblazer competition, and thank them for sharing their ideas and vision with us.”

Mr Henderson also thanked the event’s guest speaker, Queensland Ballet’s new Artistic Director Li Cunxin, on inspiring the Trailblazer entrants and the general audience with stories from his life’s journey that relate to the perseverance, determination and focus required for successful scientific endeavour.

Best known as ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’, Li has also worked for one of Australia’s leading stock broking firms, and was a director of the Bionics Institute.

The 2012 Trailblazer competition was sponsored by patent attorney firms Davies Collison Cave and Fisher Adams Kelly;Campus Travel; corporate training company NRG Solutions; trade mark attorneys and IP lawyers Griffith HackRedback Conferencing; and law firm DibbsBarker.

2012 Trailblazer Grand Final winners

Winner - Staff Dr Fiona Simpson, A/Prof Nicholas Saunders & A/Prof Brian Gabrielli, UQ
Traffic control for cancer therapy
Winner - Student Mr Patrick Littlejohn, Faculty of Engineering, UQ
Recovering valuable minerals from mine waste
Runner Up - Staff Prof Robert Henry & Dr Agnelo Furtado, UQ
Predicting and controlling superior wheat-baking
Runner Up - Student Mr Thomas Drewett, UQ
Chest Wall Monitoring of HFOV Neonates
Highly Commended - Staff A/Prof Jianchun Li, Dr Yancheng Li & Prof Bijan Samali, UTS
Smart seismic base isolator
Highly Commended - Student Ms Samantha Khoury, UTS
miLife Personalised Cancer Therapy
Pitching Excellence Dr Michael Smout, James Cook University
Novel Parasitic Worm Drug Resistance Assay
People's Choice Award Mr Thomas Drewett, UQ, Chest Wall Monitoring of HFOV Neonates
Prof Robert Henry & Dr Agnelo Furtado, UQ, Predicting and controlling superior wheat-baking