Monash at the frontier of health innovation

An innovative public health program against mosquito-borne diseases and groundbreaking technology that interfaces computers to the brain, for bionic vision, are two major research projects that will progress into critical new stages of commercial development, following the announcement of federal funding today.

Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, has pledged almost $2 million to two Monash University led projects under the new Frontier Health and Medical Research Program. The program will invest $240 million over four years to support innovative ideas and discoveries with great potential for transformative impact on health care.

The funding announced today will support 10 research projects for one year with $1 million each to advance their technologies, ready to put forward a detailed plan for potential stage two investment. Stage two will support the best two applicants with up to $100 million each over five years.

President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner AO said Monash was the only institution awarded two projects – an indication of the University’s research depth and scale.

“These results demonstrate the University’s global footprint and capacity to deliver high quality research and innovation that has an impact in communities that need it most,” Professor Gardner said.

“Large-scale projects like these that combine research and its practical application can have significant implications for local and international communities, and we thank the Federal Government for recognising Monash University as a global leader in health science and technology innovation.”

The two projects to receive almost $1 million each are:

Cortical Frontiers: Commercialising Brain-Machine Interfaces

Professor Arthur Lowery, Director of the Monash Vision Group, and his team have developed wireless-connected electronic implants that sit on the surfaces of the brain, creating long-term brain-machine interfaces. The primary purpose has been to restore vision, though it has become clear that there are many other applications for this technology.

The funding will enable the team to explore these potential new applications including the moderation of epilepsy and depression, brain-controlled prosthetics, and the restoration of vital senses beyond vision.

A robust public health program against mosquito-borne diseases

Professor Scott O’Neill is leading a major global research operation to eradicate mosquito-borne viruses including dengue and Zika.

Now operating in 12 countries, the program introduces a natural bacterium called Wolbachia, that is present in up to 60 per cent of insect species, into Aedes Aegpyti mosquitoes, reducing their ability to transmit the viruses to humans. Once released, they breed with wild mosquitoes, passing on the ability to block the diseases.

The team plan to use the funding to prepare for future scale-up of the global program, as a transformative public health intervention.