Friday, 09 November 2012

Treatment for muscle-wasting disease wins WA innovators’ award

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DMD WinnersThe researchers came up with an RNA molecule that, in effect, skips the mutated gene that causes the disease and improves the quality of life of patients.A TEAM of medical researchers from the UWA has won the WA Innovator of the Year Award for devising a treatment for an incurable muscle-wasting disease that affects hundreds of thousands of boys worldwide.

The researchers, Professor Steve Wilton and Professor Sue Fletcher along with UWA colleague Simon Handford, picked up the overall prize, the Mitsubishi Corporation WA Innovator of the Year, for coming up with a novel treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a genetic muscle-wasting disease that affects at least three boys living in Perth and about one in 3,500 boys worldwide.

The researchers came up with an RNA molecule that, in effect, skips the mutated gene that causes the disease and improves the quality of life of patients.

The treatment is being developed in partnership with Sarepta Therapeutics and is undergoing clinical trials.

In accepting the award, Professor Sue Fletcher paid tribute to her absent colleague Professor Steve Wilton for being a “creative genius”.

She also underscored the importance of commercialisation experts in developing innovative research.

“Steve and I are scientists, we’re commercially naïve and we could not have commercialised what we do without the help of Simon Handford and UWA’s Office of Industry and Innovation,” she said.

Another category winner, Graeme Attey of HIVAP air conditioning, gave Science and Innovation Minister John Day and the 200 or so guests at the awards lunch a more personal insight into the innovation lifestyle.

“I’d like to thank my wife for putting up with me for 30 years,” he said.

“For 30 years, I’ve basically been coming up with ideas and trying them out to see if they’re any good and I might commercialise them. It’s not the most consistent income.

“People ask me ‘What do you do?’ I tend not to use the word ‘inventor’ because that sounds a bit flaky so I use the term ‘industrial designer’.”

The winners shared an overall prize pool of $190,000. Other category winners include:

• The South Fremantle company, HIVAP, which won the Mitsubishi Emerging Innovation Category for developing a smaller, more cost-effective air conditioning system.

• Kanopy, a Subiaco company which won the Mitsubishi Corporation Growth Category for developing its online streaming video service for universities around the globe.

• The University of Western Australia, which won the iiNet Encouragement Award for developing the AUSTRALIS Wildfire Simulator which can forecast how a bushfire will progress across the landscape.

• The Rivervale company, Long Pipes, which won the Woodside Oil and Gas Encouragement Award for its ‘Fluid Highways’ system. This involves developing a system of high-pressure, large-diameter pipes to transport fluids faster and more efficiently.

Disclosure: the WA Innovator of the Year Awards is administered by the Department of Commerce, which is affiliated with Scitech and ScienceNetwork WA.

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