Memory loss initiative set to revolutionise the fight against age-related problems

20 October 2010

Baby-boomers worried about memory loss as they age have a fighting chance of bypassing age-related problems… thanks to the initiative of two Auckland women and their revolutionary approach to age-defying memory strategies.

Former independent school principal, Gillian Eadie and researcher Dr Allison Lamont have created The Healthy Memory Company, an initiative aimed at training those in the 50 plus age-group to build brain resilience and protect themselves from future memory loss.

The venture has clinched a major University of Auckland Spark $100K Challenge award for 2010.

Dr Lamont's research has identified six key areas of memory function needed in older age to enable independent living. The Healthy Memory Company has developed a range of science-based products – online and course-based – to boost performance in each of those vital areas.

"Loss of memory and consequently independence is now the No. 1 fear of seniors in both the United States and United Kingdom, even overtaking the fear of cancer and death," Business School Dean Professor Greg Whittred says.

"As the baby-boomer population increases exponentially in New Zealand and globally, so sadly does the incidence of memory ailments and the inability to live alone.

"Those judging this year's Spark competition were extremely impressed with the quality of the research and what the Healthy Memory Company is seeking to achieve with its training programmes to enable people's brain connections to re-grow with stimulation at any age."

Spark Steering Committee chair Geoff Whitcher says the company's potential is exciting.

"The mission of the directors is to help the 50+ age group build brain resilience so that they can retain their youthful memory skills and protect themselves against future memory loss brought on by conditions such as dementia and Alzheimers," he says.

"This type of initiative is highly valuable within New Zealand and throughout the world."

A world-leading inorganic composite material developed by a University of Auckland research team that promises to revolutionise environment purification of air and water has won this year's top award in the Challenge.

PhotoPURE – developed by a group of PhD students and their supervisor Professor Wei Gao – has already excited health circles and the waste water industry with its novel and advanced blend of nanoscience and photocatalytic technology that brings both higher efficiency and lower cost.

The new technology, a green process that creates no secondary contaminants or other harmful by-products, means environmental impurification can be eradicated through the use of light energy.

Due to its unique "nanoarchitecture", PhotoPURE is more efficient and provides a longer-lasting purifying effect, the developers say. With its low energy consumption, long life-time and minimal maintenance requirements, PhotoPURE is set to radically reduce purification costs whilst offering improved air and water quality.

The company has won $20,000 in seed finance and six months' residence at business incubator The ICEHOUSE.

Healthy Memory Company, as the runner-up, has won $10,000 seed money and six months' residence at The ICEHOUSE.

Equal third place-getters were GI Joes, which has developed a medical device for diagnosing gastric problems through the electrical activity of the stomach; and One Beep, whose innovation is to provide connectivity to computers in remote places via radio waves. Each receives three months in the ICEHOUSE.

Spark, in its eighth year, encourages a spirit of innovation and a culture of entrepreneurship at The University of Auckland, and has already fostered the establishment of 65 start-up ventures which collectively have created more than 250 jobs and sell products in 22 countries. This year has seen an initial 286 entries whittled down to 65 semi-finalists and then 12 finalists.

Spark chief executive Graeme Fielder says selecting the winner this year has not been an easy feat. "The entries have been extremely diverse, matched with strong teams with ideas that have introduced new medical devices, food products, purification and communication technologies or seek to end poverty or encourage fair trade.

"In addition to our next generation of entrepreneurs, Spark this year in particular has stimulated a wave of individual transformations.

"This includes graduates taking their entrepreneurial mindsets to high profile corporate positions, scientists and engineers obtaining an appreciation of the path of commercialisation and importance of intellectual property, and graduates becoming social good pioneers or continuing a business education at top US business schools."