From Master’s project to coeliac innovation

During their Master’s by coursework degree in 2014, postgraduate students Anantdeep Kaur and Buket Demirci worked together on Buket’s idea to design a novel rapid, non-invasive test for coeliac disease. The concept of their research was developed in the core subject “Innnovation, Commercialisation & Entrepreneurship” run by UTS Professor Michael Wallach. The virtual idea was so attractive and seemingly feasible that they further developed it into reality with their mentors, Professor Wallach, and Senior Lecturer and multidisciplinary researcher Dr Olga Shimoni.

Following her successful Master’s completion, Ms Kaur has pursued doctoral studies by securing a highly competitive PhD scholarship from UTS to continue working on the test with the aim of developing an efficient diagnostic test for coeliac disease.

“The Master’s program helped me to understand the various aspects of the commercialisation journey of a medical device starting from the development of an idea that is feasible, patentable and implementable to understanding the market for the product,” Ms Kaur said.

Although coeliac disease is a well-recognised disorder in the community, impacting one in 70 Australians, around 80% of cases go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Current testing methods can be inconclusive, expensive and uncomfortable.

“The current available auto-antibody tests have been found to be inconsistent, genetic testing has a low predictive value and gluten specific T cells and gliadin-induced cytokines based tests remain costly,” Ms Kaur said.

“In addition, while biopsy remains a gold standard, many people on a gluten free diet are reluctant to re-introduce gluten for a [subsequent] histology examination for fear of making the symptoms worse,“ Ms Kaur said.

The new test developed by the team aims to provide a cost-effective option that will identify the disease in its early stages, when it can be easily managed or treated with minimal suffering to the patient. Instead of an invasive blood test or biopsy, the patient simply provides a small amount of saliva into a tube, a result via a colour change can be seen within 15 minutes. A positive result should give the individual the confidence to seek further medical advice.

“Coeliac disease is a global phenomenon especially in western countries, so we see the product having largest impact in the US, Australia and in Europe as well as other parts of the world,” said Dr Shimoni.

In August 2018 with help from UTS Research Office and patent attorneys FB Rice, the team of Anantdeep Kaur, Buket Demirci, Michael Wallach and Olga Shimoni successfully gained international protection in the form of a patent for their development. This exciting achievement protects their IP and ensures freedom to proceed to the next phase in the commercialisation journey.

“In the future we seek to expand the scope of our invention, increasing the outcome of our innovation. In the next year we are looking to create a prototype which we are going to take to practitioners and clinicians and start clinical trials,” Dr Shimoni said.

After completing her Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at UTS Buket Demirci started working as a Cancer Genetics Scientist at St Vincent’s Hospital. Anantdeep Kaur is currently in the final stages of her PhD.

The team of four inventors hope to expand the scope of the product to an international market, providing a cheap, accurate and simple test that would be widely available to the public for not only coeliac disease but potentially a platform technology for other diseases. The team are currently looking for investors to join their innovation journey.