A novel therapy for bone cancer and a safer way to extract copper took out the top prizes in the inaugural Grand Final of UniQuest’s annual Trailblazer innovative ideas competition, held at The University of Queensland (UQ) on 15 August 2011.

Twenty Grand Finalists from five Australian universities and a Brisbane-based medical research institution competed for $50,000 in cash prizes to further their research careers.

The seven-member judging panel of research commercialisation experts awarded Dr Andrew Hutchinson from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) the highest score for pitching his novel multiple myeloma therapy.  James Cook University (JCU) student Reza Al Shakarji impressed the judges with his alternative anode for large-scale copper extraction.

UniQuest, one of Australia’s largest and most successful university technology transfer companies, has run the Trailblazer innovative and entrepreneurial ideas competition at UQ since 2003, subsequently introducing it to partner research institutions: the University of Wollongong (UOW), Mater Medical Research Institute (MMRI), JCU, UTS, University of Tasmania (UTAS), and Queensland Health.

This is the first time prize winners from the individual university finals have competed against each other in a Grand Final of the popular pitching competition.

UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson, said the entries which made it to the Trailblazer Grand Final reflected the high quality and extensive range of exciting ideas currently being researched at Australian universities.

“Ideas for improving health, education and the environment featured strongly this year, with every entry offering a solution to real problems facing society and industry on a global scale,” Mr Henderson said.

“Trailblazer has taken these ideas out of the researcher’s notebook and out from under the microscope, and put them under a bigger spotlight, lighting the way for those ideas to move forward into products and services that will change how we deal with the big issues like cancer, obesity, pollution, and sustainable development.

“We congratulate all the prize winners, not only on their Trailblazer awards, but also on their courage to share their entrepreneurial ideas and their vision for making a difference.”

As well as offering prize money and prestige, Trailblazer introduces participants to industry sponsors who can help them protect, package and promote their ideas.

This year’s University Finals and Grand Final were sponsored by patent and trademark attorney firms Fisher Adams Kelly and Davies Collison Cave. Another patent and trademark attorney firm, Griffith Hack, sponsored six iPad draws, while intellectual property advisers Shelston IP sponsored the NSW teams’ travel to Brisbane for the Grand Final. Other sponsors included NRG Solutions (pitch skills training), BDO (Vision Award for Business/Industry Innovation), sanofi-aventis (Vision Award for Better Health), and New Scientist (Vision Award for Environmental Sustainability).

The Vision Awards were presented by their sponsors. The Winner and Runner Up Awards were presented by UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Greenfield and keynote speaker Commercialisation Australia CEO, Mr Doron Ben-Meir, who gave the Innovation Address.

2011 Trailblazer Grand Final Results

Open Winner ($16,000)
Dr Andrew Hutchinson – Novel Therapy for Multiple Myeloma (UTS)
Multiple Myeloma (MM) is the second most common blood cancer and is considered fatal with median life expectancy of 3-5 years. Current MM treatment regimes are highly toxic with detrimental side effects. Dr Hutchinson’s research team has identified a class of molecules that show potent anti-MM activity and potential to delay tumour growth.

Student Winner ($16,000)
Mr Reza Al Shakarji – Alternative Anode for Large-Scale Copper Extraction (JCU)
More than 720,000 lead anodes are currently used in copper mining. Mr Al Shakarji’s research involves a new type of anode that is lighter, safer to handle, costs less to produce and transport, generates less acid mist when used, and poses no health or environmental hazards in comparison to lead anodes.

Open Runner Up ($5,000)
Dr Ryan Wilkinson – Rapid Fish Welfare Assessment in Aquaculture (UTAS)
Fish farmers are under increasing pressure from supermarkets, animal welfare groups and consumers to improve and maintain fish welfare in aquaculture.  Dr Wilkinson’s project aims to develop a rapid, less invasive test for identifying and improving situations where fish welfare may be compromised.

Student Runner Up ($5,000)
Mr Samuel Brennan, Ms Samantha Khoury, Dr Nham Tran & Dr Rosetta Martiniello-Wilks – Early Cancer Diagnosis Using Body Fluids (UTS)
MicroRNAs are small molecules that regulate the behaviour of all cells. In cancer, however, some microRNAs fail to perform their normal duties, allowing cancerous cells to grow. The researchers have discovered that MicroRNAs found in blood, saliva and urine show promise as indicators of cancer; and they are now investigating the development of these MicroRNAs as biomarkers for the early diagnosis of cancer.

Vision Award for Better Health ($2,000)
Dr Trent Munro – Biologic Bullets for Beating Bacterial Infections (UQ)
Dr Munro believes the creation of designer biologic bullets to target drug resistant superbugs will offer treatment new options for life-threatening bacterial infections.  He is working on therapies that aim to be first-in-class therapeutic antibodies for rapidly targeting and clearing infection with limited side-effects.

Vision Award for Environmental Sustainability ($2,000)
Mr Callum Hickey – The Hickey Process (UQ)
The Hickey process is an innovative method for sustainable ammonia production. It is designed to significantly increase production profitability, flexibility and price stability while decreasing energy demands – when compared to traditional ammonia manufacturing processes.

Vision Award for Business/Industry innovation ($2,000)
Mr Reza Al Shakarji – Alternative Anode for Large-Scale Copper Extraction (JCU)
See above.

Vision Award for Enriched Communities ($2,000)
Professor Aditya Ghose – UNNOTI (UOW)
Professor Aditya’s computer-based UNNOTI toolkit uses the rigour of formal software engineering methods to obtain better-designed and more efficient rural services (e.g. seed/fertilizer supply), while supporting continual monitoring and improvement.  The project aims to increase agricultural production and improve the quality of life in impoverished farming communities.

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