SPARK Melbourne Cohort 2019

The inaugural SPARK Melbourne teams have spent the last few months putting together their developmental plans and establishing their milestones for the duration of the course. 6 teams have been selected to take part in the program which will see them receive tailored mentoring, advice and networking as well as milestone funding over the next two years. 

Find out more about the SPARK Melbourne course here or keep reading for more info on the team members and projects!

SPARK Melbourne projects and their team leads

Dr Fiona Brownfoot  – Senior Research Fellow, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 

A novel device that would continuously monitor fetal wellbeing in labour.

Dr William Figgett – Research Fellow, Department of Microbiology and Immunology

For novel therapeutics for autoimmune disease.

Dr Laura Downie – Senior Research Fellow, Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences 

For a point-of-care medical device for dry-eye diagnosis.

Dr Brendon Chua – Senior Research Fellow, Department of Microbiology and Immunology 

For a dual functional immunostimulant that protects against seasonal influenza.

Dr Farhad Goodarzy – Senior Research Fellow, St Vincent’s Hospital

For technology that translates brain signals to robotic movements

Dr Matias Maturana – Research Fellow, St Vincent’s Hospital

For a high-fidelity fully-implantable seizure prediction system.

SPARK Sydney Launches

SPARK Sydney was officially launched last week, welcoming 10 teams to the program with a talk by special guest, Prof Daria Mochly Rosen (co-founder and co-director of SPARK Stanford). 

The ten selected teams come from either the University of Technology Sydney and The University of Sydney. Over the next two years (or until teams incorporate into a company) these projects will receive tailored mentoring and advice, and six of these will receive milestone funding with the aim of translating them into products or services that can benefit patients and the community as a whole. Find out more about the SPARK Sydney course here or keep reading for more info on the team members and projects!

Funded and Mentored

Prof Mary Bebaway from UTS

A liquid biopsy for Diagnosing and Monitoring the progression of Multiple Myeloma

Dr Lana McLements from UTS

Developing new predictive risk stratification biomarkers and targets based on complete transcriptome and proteome for pre-eclampsia and heart failure.

Dr Olga Shimoni from UTS

Screening test for Coeliac Disease

Dr Tristan Reekie

Rachel Codd from University of Sydney

A new resin for enriching the phosphoproteome

Wojtek chrzanowski from University of Sydney

Extracellular vesicles as next-generation therapeutics for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)


Martin Stewart from UTS

A strategy to optimise low-cost-low-toxicity cancer treatments

Dr Ann Kwan from University of Sydney

Developing new antibiotics by targeting specific molecular interactions in bacteria 

A/Prof Elena Bagley from University of Sydney

Positive allosteric modulators of endogenous opioids for anxiety disorder treatment

Dr Pegah Varmini from University of Sydney

Using Advanced Nano-micelle Formulations to target breast cancer cells

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.

SPARK Global takes Australian Biomed Innovation to the world

As the course director for SPARK Sydney, Professor Wallach was invited to speak at the 4th Annual SPARK Global event held at Charité University Campus in Berlin.

The SPARK program, initiated by Stanford University, fosters think tank collaborations and research innovations between universities, clinicians and medical and biomedical industries 

Professor Wallach said, “The philosophy of SPARK Australia is to focus primarily on the benefit for the patient, and this has definitely contributed to the success of all of the projects participating in the program.”

Professor Wallach was joined by fellow translational scientists from across the world at the event to discuss SPARK Global’s work in bridging the gap between academia and industry in addressing global health challenges. The success of SPARK Sydney is attributed to the work Professor Wallach has put in to the program, and he discussed the methods he used to kick start the Sydney branch at the event.

“It has been very exciting seeing SPARK programs develop in Sydney [UTS, University of Sydney & Macquarie University], at Monash University starting last year and more recently at the University of Melbourne.

“Working closely with…Stanford University, School of Medicine to bring SPARK to Australia has been an amazing experience & a great honour for me,” Professor Wallach said.  

Professor Wallach is the Associate Head of School (Strategic Development) and was appointed the Inaugural Director of the Institute for the Biotechnology of Infectious Diseases (now the ithree institute) at UTS in 2002. His 25-year expertise in basic and applied molecular parasitology, combined with his ground-breaking studies into malaria and Leishmania, makes him a highly effective representative of the SPARK Sydney program.  

SPARK Sydney was launched in 2014 and is led by UTS in collaboration with the Kolling Institute and other universities such as the University of Sydney and Macquarie University. SPARK Sydney offers mentorship and seed funding opportunities in medical, diagnostics and therapeutics fields.

A new round of SPARK Sydney will be launched in November 2018 with collaboration between UTS, University of Sydney and Macquarie University.

For more information about this round of SPARK Sydney contact Dr Samira Aili.