New funding fast-tracks development of paper test for jaundice newborns


Monash University is part of a unique consortium that has recently won a grant of $1 million to promote commercialisation training amongst 21 partners nationally.

As part of the Australian Government’s Industry Growth Centres Initiative, the 2017 round of the MTPConnect Project Fund Program provided $7.38 million of funding for 20 national projects in the medtech, biotech and pharmaceutical sector.

Monash received an Accelerating Australia grant which will assist various projects including an existing development of a fast and cheap paper test for jaundice in newborns. It is a joint-development by the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering and Monash Health.

Jaundice is a common condition in newborns causing the skin and whites of the eyes to yellow as a result of excess bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is produced by the normal breakdown of red blood cells. A new baby's bilirubin levels peak at about two to four days of age, commonly when they are already back home. However if the condition doesn’t clear – and because severe jaundice can cause brain damage if left untreated, the affected baby often needs a home visit from a nurse and a blood test, which can be expensive and take time for results.

Monash Faculty of Engineering researchers, led by Professor Wei Shen, have developed a prototype paper test for bilirubin levels which will allow almost instant results at a portion of the cost of the current blood tests. The test will also mean that babies in remote, regional areas and under-resourced poorer countries can have their bilirubin levels monitored.

According to Professor Laurence Meagher, Deputy Director of the MIME, the test arose because a team of clinicians and health professionals recognised the need for a cheap, easy and accurate test for bilirubin.

“We worked with these developers, mentoring them, working through the regulatory issues associated with developing a home based medical device, managed the cost benefit analysis so the developers will be able make an health economic argument to investors and other stakeholders,” he said.

The Accelerating Australia funding will help the bilirubin project, and others, to reach their commercialization milestones faster, Professor Meagher said. “The aim is to get tests and devices that will benefit Australians into hospitals, clinics and homes faster,” Professor Meagher said.

The MTPConnect - the Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals Industry Growth Centre - Project Fund Program is a competitive, dollar-for-dollar matched funding program investing in big, bold ideas to improve the productivity, competitiveness and innovative capacity of Australia’s medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector.

Modeled on the successful SPARK program from Stanford University, the program, and part of the SPARK Global community, will promote industry focused collaborations between the Monash Faculties of Engineering, Medicine, Information Technology, the MIME, Monash Art Design and Architecture and clinicians in the Monash Partner Hospitals.

Professor Meagher said the grant would actively assist the commercialisation of med-tech devices that are developed solely because of problems that have been identified by clinicians at Monash partner hospitals.

“This funding, as well as the collaboration across all the Accelerating Australia partners will mean that Australians will have access to world class medical technologies sooner,” Professor Meagher said.