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    For when the bell tolls


    Profit is often assumed to be the bottom line for many entrepreneurs. But some innovations are about more than lining pockets. While most new teChnologies claim to change your life, here are seven that could one day save it. By Liz Heynes and Catherine Kerstjens.


    AA11-Aug-Sep-2005-ba1What is it about Aussies and shrimps? Not content to simply ‘throw one on the barby’, Professor Brian Kay of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research has transformed the humble shrimp into a life-saving crustacean.

    “We have developed a mosquito control strategy that uses natural predators rather than insecticides,” says Prof. Kay. “By using tiny micro-crustaceans called copepods, which prey on mosquito larvae, we have been able to target the major carrier of dengue fever at the disease’s epicenter in Asia.”

    This low-technology approach to the problem of dengue fever, developed together with Dr Vu Sinh Nam of Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, stands to make a measurable impact on the thirdworld and redress what has become a global crisis.

    “Globally, dengue fever is the most common insect-borne virus. It causes 50 million infections, 500,000 cases of dengue haemorrhagic fever and at least 12,000 deaths per year,” says Kay.

    “Its effects have been exacerbated by high population growth and the fact that most people live without a live water supply in Asia,” says Kay.

    The implementation of the program throughout Vietnam has returned signifi cant results and has been acknowledged by the World Health Organisation as one of the most successful dengue fever programs ever implemented.

    “No cases of dengue fever have been reported in any of the 42 Vietnamese communities that were involved in the program since 2001,” says Kay. “To date, more than 400,000 people have been protected from dengue fever, which was previously one of the biggest killers of children under the age of five in Vietnam.”

    Kay attributes the success of the program to the involvement of members of the affected communities. This sustainable approach has been rewarded, with the Vietnam program receiving renewed funding from AusAID for a further five years.

    These micro crustaceans may be small, but they have a hunger to change the world. (CK) www.qimr.edu.au/research/

    AA11-Aug-Sep-2005-ba2Scientists at IM Medical spend their days listening and worrying about the rhythm of our hearts — so we don’t have to.

    “Intelliheart is an innovative Australian approach to the assessment and diagnosis of cardiovascular disease,” says Dr Jack Minas, founder of the Intelliheart system and Chief Scientific Offi cer at IM Medical. “The system enables detection of the early signs of cardiovascular disease without the need for invasive or expensive tests.”

    The Intelliheart Cardiovascular Diagnostic System is unique in its approach — enabling early detection and identification of a patient’s risk of heart disease.

    “Heart and blood vessel disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, kills over 50,000 Australians each year, accounting for 40 percent of national deaths,” says Dr Jack Minas.

    “At present, most tests to detect and assess cardiovascular disease are used after a person has experienced symptoms or after they suffer a heart attack or stroke,” says Dr Minas. “The Intelliheart system integrates established and advanced technologies to enable the doctor to identify the early signs of the disease.”

    The system works by collating the results of various tests (including blood pressure, arterial stiffness and blood cholesterol levels) to prepare a comprehensive report. This report includes an ‘absolute risk score’ that assesses a patient’s risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. Importantly, it provides the education and motivation for patients to take charge of their situation and reduce their risk.

    And the circulation figures are looking good. IM Medical listed on the Australian Stock Exchange after acquiring Intelliheart in September 2004. Today, the company is worth about $8 million. The second phase of the Intelliheart system was achieved in June, with the system now including internet connection capabilities that enable rapid data transfer to the IM Medical server.


    AA11-Aug-Sep-2005-ba3The team at InfaMed is bringing the fun back into the lives of children suffering from asthma. And it’s a solution akin to the jar of jellybeans you’ll find at the doctor’s surgery.

    “One of the biggest difficulties in treating childhood asthma is motivating children to inhale their medication willingly,” says Dr William Dolphin, Chief Executive Offi cer at InfaMed. “The Funhaler® was developed to assist children and their parents in complying with asthma management programs by making their taking of medication fun and entertaining.”

    Developed by Dr Paul Watt, The Funhaler is a novel approach to the significant health issue of asthma. “Approximately one billion children worldwide suffer from asthma and a large percentage of these children have highly restricted lifestyles due to this illness,” says Dr Dolphin. “Many asthmatic children cannot participate in normal activities such as sport, miss school on a regular basis and are repeatedly hospitalised with acute asthmatic episodes or ‘attacks’.”

    With built in breath-driven incentive toys attached to an asthma delivery device (or spacer), The Funhaler teaches children how to inhale their medication correctly. The device’s unique features provide the rewards: whistles and spinning discs that guide the correct intake of breath.

    And these ‘bells and whistles’ are playing the tune of success. Examined and cleared by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia and the equivalent bodies in both the US and Europe, The Funhaler is in demand internationally.

    “The Funhaler is the only incentive asthma device for children in the world. We are confident that it will make a considerable contribution to increasing compliance and efficacy of delivery of asthma medication and improve the lives of children worldwide,” says Dr Dolphin.

    AA11-Aug-Sep-2005-ba4Melbourne-based design firm CobaltNiche is making it easier to ‘do the right thing’.

    “We are always on the lookout for design briefs that allow us the space to make a real difference to human experiences,” says Jack Magree, Director of CobaltNiche. “From the moment Heartsine Technologies, the UK developer and manufacturer of the Samaritan PAD (Public Access Defi brillator) first briefed us we knew that this product would have the ultimate impact on users — lives will be saved and aidgivers will experience their greatest satisfaction”.

    The Samaritan PAD provides on-site and on-the-spot treatment of sudden cardiac arrest. Intended for use by untrained operators, a key feature of the unit is its ability to automatically measure and adjust the charge size to meet the needs of the patient.

    “Early in the design process we wanted to broaden the product from being a medical product to being a safety and first aid product,” says Magree. “We used the metaphor of the lifebuoy to inspire the form and visual identity of the Samaritan PAD. Building instant visual recognition is half the battle with safety products.”

    CobaltNiche’s focus on the product’s user is reflected in a revolutionary design that is simple, compact and logical. Weighing just 1kg, the unit is waterproof and provides an effective interface to guide users through its operation.

    “The PAD’s key features — intuitive control panel, low weight, small size and affordable price — mean it can be used in more places, saving more lives,” says Magree.

    CobaltNiche’s contribution to the Samaritan PAD was recognised at the recent 2005 Australian Design Awards.

    Who said industrial design doesn’t have the power to shock? (CK)


    Reports of a seven year old boy receiving a needlestick injury on Melbourne’s St Kilda beach made national headlines earlier this year. But for healthcare workers, needlestick injuries are an ever-present risk, particularly for those exposed to high risk blood-borne diseases like Hepatitis and HIV.

    Queensland-based Medigard has developed retractable safety syringes using vacuum technology. The company’s Sharps Collector RV255 prototype allows for safe blood collection and sharps disposal, making needlestick injuries a thing of the past.

    The Sharps Collector works by retracting the needle into the syringe using a vacuum, a process which stops any vaporisation or splatter of potentially infectious blood borne pathogens during retraction and collection.

    Medigard CEO Peter Emery says the products are ground breaking. “The true innovation lies in the use of vacuum technology in a design that is simple and elegant, with assembly that’s no more difficult than the current non-safety disposable syringe.”

    It’s also a unique product in the market. “Very few retractable devices have so far made it to market in Australia,” he says. “Where these products have been produced and sold to date, comparative costs both here and overseas are high, next to non-safety devices.”

    Emery also highlights the advantages of vacuum technology compared with the previous generation of retractable syringes. The older technology used a metal spring and sheath mechanism, with more parts requiring comparatively complex and costly assembly. The Sharps Collector uses only four parts, made from medical grade plastics, with a design optimised for high volume automated manufacture and assembly.

    The company has received warm feedback from its trials with designers, engineers and end-users — the healthcare workers themselves. Testimony to the leading edge design is Medigard’s recent Australian Design Award (Medical and Scientific) and its place as one of four finalists for the overall Australian Design of the Year. (LH)

    Move over Resuss Annie, there’s a new kid on the resuscitation block. RESSUS C has arrived.

    A world-first resuscitation device, RESSUS C uses ultrasound technology to stimulate a reflex coughing action in an attempt to clear a patient’s airways. Unconscious patients, babies and those with neurological disorders are expected to benefit from the new device.

    To clear a patient’s lungs of fluid, hospital staff will be able to place RESUSS C to the patient’s throat, push a button and stimulate the coughing reflex. First round clinical trials were successful, with a second round to be conducted on unconscious patients later this year.

    For inventor John Perrier of Brisbane company, Medivations, it has been a long journey from idea to reality. In 2002, Perrier was the Open Category winner of Enterprize, the University of Queensland’s business plan competition. The $100,000 prize allowed him to commercialise the technology.

    “Without Enterprize, my idea would have stayed just that — an idea,” says Perrier.

    Even with initial funding, bringing his life-saving idea to market has been a challenge.

    “There wasn’t a checklist about how to commercialise a medical device so I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the manufacturing process, capital raising and understanding medical requirements and regulations,” he says.

    In February, the Federal Government awarded Medivations a $249,500 R&D Start grant to further develop the cough stimulator. Presenting the award, Federal Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane praised the project.

    “This is an example of a small Australian company which has come up with a great idea to provide Australia with new products to the benefit of the nation’s health, economy and our ability to compete in international arenas,” said Mr Macfarlane.

    Perrier will seek venture capital finance to match the government grant and to take the project to the next stage of development. He expects RESUSS C to be available for field-testing in hospitals within a year. (LH)