Dean's Innovation Grants Winners 2020

Dr Tami Yap and Dr Aaron Collins awarded $50,000 to support translation of their research projects to clinical practice

Senior Lecturer at the Melbourne Dental School Dr Tami Yap and Dr Aaron Collins – a Research Engineer at the Melbourne Medical School – were each awarded $50,000 at this year’s Dean’s Innovation Grants pitch event on Thursday 23 October.

Dr Tami Yap (left) and Dr Aaron Collins (right)Dr Tami Yap (left) and Dr Aaron Collins (right)

Dr Yap was awarded a grant to help further progress her ‘MouthMap’ project – a digitally-annotated screening tool that will monitor changes in the skin of the mouth over time to help detect oral cancer early. In her compelling pitch, Dr Yap explained that the software has the potential to replace invasive biopsies and make treatment more accessible for patients located outside the capital cities of Melbourne and Sydney – where most oral medicine specialists are based – because the images can be viewed and reported on remotely.

Dr Yap will use funding from the grant to hire a software engineer with expertise and experience in designing clinical care platforms. MouthMap is a partnership between the Dental School, Victorian company OptiScan and industry partner MoleMap, which has developed similar technology in the field of dermatology.

Dr Collins’s grant funding will go towards developing an inexpensive implant stability quotient (ISQ) device designed and used to assess the stability of dental implants relating to otitis media, a condition endemic amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Surgeons would be able to use the device in clinical testing to determine whether a patient’s ossicles (or hearing bones) are stiff and whether surgical intervention is required in order to restore movement and improve hearing outcomes for people with the condition.

Dr Yap and Dr Collins were among six shortlisted candidates invited to pitch their projects at a Shark-Tank style event featuring a panel of external judges including Dr Mike Molinari – Managing Director, IP Group; Dr John Kurek – Investment Manager Uniseed; Dr Mara Macdonald – Investment Manager, Brandon Capital; and Dr Glenn Begley – CEO, Biocurate. The event was hosted by Dean Professor Shitij Kapur and Professor Darren Kelly, Associate Dean Innovation and Enterprise.

The four remaining shortlisted candidates – Dr Chris French from the Melbourne Medical School; Dr Nancy Wang from the School of Biomedical Sciences; Dr Driss Ait Ouakrim from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health; and Dr Andrew Buultjens from the School of Biomedical Sciences – were also commended by the judges for their promising projects ranging from diagnostic tools to a health intervention evaluation program.

The Dean’s Innovation Grants are awarded annually to researchers with compelling projects that have the potential to achieve significant societal impact and/or economic benefit – in line with initiatives such as the Medical Research Future Fund and its mission to transform research to improve lives, build the economy and contribute to health system sustainability.