Tiny microchip to keep pets safe crowned Curtinnovation winner

A smart microchip that monitors the health of much-loved pets and high-value livestock – believed to be the first of its kind in the world – has been named a winner at this year’s Curtinnovation Awards, which celebrate outstanding research that offers real-world solutions.

The VetChip has been named the Faculty of Science and Engineering winner at the 2021 Curtinnovation Awards.

The VetChip, which is placed under the skin of dogs, cats, horses and other livestock, features tiny sensors that report on an animal’s heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate, stress levels, location and activity, with that information then relayed to the animals’ owners or veterinary staff via a smartphone app.

The annual Curtinnovation Awards recognise Curtin University’s commitment to transforming exceptional research into new products and services that benefit the community, with leading research acknowledged across Curtin’s Faculties of Science and Engineering, Health Sciences, Business and Law and Humanities, as well as Learning and Teaching, and International.

The team behind the smart microchip, which was named the Faculty of Science and Engineering winner, included Dr Garnett Hall and Dr Maxwell Hall, from Fremantle Animal Hospital, as well as Curtin engineering alumni Mr Zyrus Khambatta, Mr Ross Khambatta, Mr Pendar Dalili and Mr Dilesh Wadia.

Curtin University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Chris Moran said VetChip would be rolled out to selected vet practices nationally next year.

“This smart microchip is believed to be the first of its kind in the world and will offer pet owners and veterinary staff vital, real-time health information about their beloved animals through the use of a smartphone app,” Professor Moran said.

“Crucially, this app will help animal owners detect abnormal health parameters and generate warning alerts, resulting in quicker responses and better health outcomes for the animals.”

Professor Moran said the team of Curtin engineering alumni worked with Fremantle Animal Hospital’s veterinarians to finetune their idea as part of Curtin Accelerate, an intensive 10-week program that helps transform a brilliant idea into a successful business, earlier this year.

“VetChip is a fine example of researchers pulling together their areas of expertise to solve a real-world problem that will make a difference to pet owners, animal lovers and breeders around the country,” Professor Moran said.

Professor Moran congratulated all the winners at the Curtinnovation Awards, saying there had never been a more important time for innovation to thrive.

“From a new device that ensures children suffering chronic ear infections can avoid surgery and a smartphone app that records unique body markings such as scars and tattoos of offenders, to a new virtual learning tool for pharmacology students and an interactive education program about menstrual health, these winning projects have taken a new concept and turned it into a reality,” Professor Moran said.

“The Curtinnovation Awards support the translation of outstanding research into new commercial opportunities, products and services, and I am delighted with the calibre of research acknowledged among this year’s winners.”

The winners from the 2021 Curtinnovation Awards include:

  • Faculty of Health Sciences winner – EarBuddy: treating children with chronic ear infections

Chronic ear infections are common in children, and may cause hearing difficulties, discomfort and a delay in language and speech development. Current treatment usually involves implanting pressure equalisation tubes under general anaesthesia to ventilate the middle ear through the eardrum, however, this is costly and can involve complications. EarBuddy is an inexpensive, non-invasive device that drains the middle-ear fluid in children with chronic ear infections, avoiding the need for surgery. Resembling a sippy cup, the EarBuddy contains a nasal interface that senses when a child swallows and delivers a gentle puff of air into the nasal cavity, which releases the trapped fluid. Children can use the device independently or with assistance.

Team: Dr Matt Oldakowski, Mrs Intan Oldakowska, Associate Professor Peter Santa Maria and Dr Paul Bumbak

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Faculty of Science and Engineering winner – VetChip: smart microchips that can monitor animal health

The VetChip is believed to be the world’s first smart microchip designed to monitor to the health of animals. Placed under the skin, the VetChip features an array of tiny sensors that report on an animal’s heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate, stress levels, location and activity. This data is then relayed to owners or vets via a smartphone app. Crucially, the app will help owners detect abnormal health parameters and generate alerts, resulting in better health outcomes for animals. The product will be launched at selected vet practices in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales in early 2022, before being released nationally.

Team: Dr Garnett Hall and Dr Maxwell Hall, from Fremantle Animal Hospital, along with Mr Zyrus Khambatta, Mr Ross Khambatta, Mr Pendar Dalili and Mr Dilesh Wadia.

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Faculty of Business and Law winner – Mobile app uses marks, scars and tattoos to identify suspects

When an individual first enters custody, their details are recorded and archived. Body markings such as scars, tattoos and piercings are noted to help identify them if they are involved in future crimes. In some agencies, these markings are recorded on paper in the form of hand-drawn sketches. To improve efficiency in intelligence gathering, a Curtin team has proposed a new mobile app that can help law enforcement officers identify offenders quickly just from their marks, scars and tattoos. The app captures and annotate images of suspects and records the location, scale, colour and description of their unique markings. The app also includes a search engine to identify possible offenders that match a text description or a physical image. The app has been endorsed by the WA Police senior leadership team, who plan to deploy it across the entire WA Police force.

Team: Associate Professor Vidyasagar Potdar, Associate Professor Amy Tian, Mr Jason Luppnow and Ms Ash Roberts, from Innovation Central Perth.

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Faculty of Humanities winner – VIT∞Ls®: learning difficult concepts in pharmacology

VIT∞Ls is a virtual training platform designed to help learners understand difficult concepts. It provides teachers with the ability to scaffold learning material, whereby learning materials from different areas and levels of a course are incorporated into one simulation. The platform is designed primarily for teaching and training in pharmacology, which is an integral discipline of pharmacy, medicine, nursing, paramedicine and other biomedical sciences. One of the prototypes simulates the learner administering adrenaline to a patient, which can’t be done in a laboratory setting, while another prototype involves seeing the effect of drugs on a patient at the cellular level. The intended users of the platform are university students; however, it can also be used to retrain and upskill practitioners.

Team: Dr Rima Caccetta, Associate Professor Lisa Tee, Associate Professor Francesco Mancini, Mr Jonathan Pillai, Mr Justin Owen, Associate Professor Aneesh Krishna, and Mr Matt Reed.

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • Learning and Teaching winner – My Vital Cycles: increasing education about menstrual health

When girls first start their periods, they may experience pain, mood swings, irregular cycles or abnormal bleeding patterns due to their developmental age. Yet many do not seek or receive appropriate care. This may be due to a lack of ovulatory-menstrual education, with the Australian education curriculum covering this topic in just one lesson per year. My Vital Cycles is a learning program to address this gap, and help students better understand their bodies. The program was created by experts in fertility, medicine, education and public health, for use by secondary school teachers and students. The program comprises activities, videos and interactive workbooks and can be embedded into the school curriculum, to help students make informed health decisions throughout their lives.

Team: Mrs Felicity Roux, Mrs Kammi Rapsey, Ms Alexei Tsallis, Professor Sharyn Burns, Dr Jacqui Hendriks, and Dr Jun Chih.

Video: Watch the team video here.

  • International winner – AgriSmartEye: a reliable, low-cost method to analyse black pepper

Black pepper is an important agricultural commodity in Sarawak, contributing to more than 95 per cent of Malaysia’s pepper industry. As a premium product, it is important to ensure that it is sold as a pure, unadulterated product without added bulk contaminants. Existing methods to maintain and improve the quality of the pepper are time-consuming and uneconomical. Now, a research team from Curtin University Malaysia has proposed a rapid, reliable and cost-effective screening tool. The tool uses hyperspectral imaging technologies combined with deep learning artificial neural networks, which not only detect pollutants in the black pepper powder, but also indicate its chemical composition and geographical origin. The tool can be used by local producers, traders and regulatory bodies such as the Malaysia Pepper Board.

Team: Associate Professor Agus Saptoro and Mr Terence Chia Yi Kai, from Curtin Malaysia.

Video: Watch the team video here.

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