Winning research-based ideas blaze a bright trail for the future

10 Sep 2012

Winning research-based ideas blaze a bright trail for the futureNew approaches to cancer treatment was the winning idea from the Grand Final of UniQuest’s annual Trailblazer innovative ideas competition held at The University of Queensland (UQ) on 4 September 2012.

The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute team, led by Dr Fiona Simpson, won the Staff category, and plans to use the $25,000 in prize money to develop a new diagnostic tool and drug candidate for Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)—a type of skin cancer affecting more than 80,000 Australians every year.

“If we can accurately predict which patients will respond we will lower patient suffering, give them more time for other treatments instead of using time on therapies which won't help them and save the health systems millions of dollars per year which can be used for other treatments,” Dr Simpson said of her presentation.

Trailblazer is run by UQ’s main research commercialisation company, UniQuest. The Grand Final engaged prize winners from university-based finals held in August at UQ, James Cook UniversityUniversity of Technology, Sydney, and University of Tasmania.

“The experience was fantastic. I enjoyed the teamwork on the part of the UQDI. Lisa Bidwell, Nicholas Saunders and Brian Gabrielli threw themselves into it and a number of UQDI staff and students were great practice audiences for me,” Dr Simpson laughed.

UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson, said Dr Simpson and Mr Littlejohn were among 14 Grand Finalists who competed for the prize pool of $50,000 in cash prizes to further their research careers. The competition involved pitching for five minutes to a closed judging panel of commercialisation experts in the morning, then presenting the same idea as a one-minute non-disclosing speech at the awards ceremony.

“This year we introduced a 'People's Choice’ segment to the awards ceremony, which meant the audience had the opportunity to hear about 14 exciting innovations emerging from university research, then vote for the pitch they believed conveyed the most brilliant idea,” Mr Henderson explained.

“Our Trailblazer Grand Finalists this year included undergraduate students and internationally renowned academics, so although there was a mix of pitching experience, they all shared a tremendous passion for their research aims, and that came across very clearly in both the panel-judged pitches and the People’s Choice Awards.

“It’s not surprising that we ended up with a tie for the People’s Choice award, with UQ’s Professor Robert Henry and student Thomas Drewett sharing that honour,” Mr Henderson said.

“We congratulate the winners from this year’s Trailblazer competition, and thank them for sharing their ideas and vision with us.”

The event’s guest speaker, Queensland Ballet’s new Artistic Director Li Cunxin captivated Trailblazer entrants and the general audience with stories from his life’s journey that relate to the perseverance, determination and focus required for successful scientific endeavour.

Best known as ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’, Li has also worked for one of Australia’s leading stock broking firms, and was a director of the Bionics Institute.

“The Awards presentation was enjoyable for everybody with a guest speaker (Mao's last dancer) who was truly inspirational. Hearing the other teams one minute pitches really gave a sense that amazing ideas were on their way to improve the future in many different ways,” Fiona said.