Electrical stomach activity recorder wins major entrepreneurial award

21 October 2010

A multi-disciplinary team of clinicians and biomedical engineers has developed what judges of The University of Auckland's Spark $100K Challenge believe will be a catalyst of change in the diagnosis of stomach disorders in patients around the globe.

The GI Joes, a venture made up of four postgraduate students at the University, has clinched a major Challenge award tonight with its novel medical method and software package that records the bioelectrical activity in the human stomach.

"This initiative has success written all over it," Business School Dean Professor Greg Whittred says. "With stomach complaints like indigestion and heartburn, as well as more serious ailments affecting a major percentage of Western society, ways to accurately and more cheaply ascertain cause and treatment will be of great interest to the global medical fraternity."

The Gastric Electrical Mapping System (GEMS) can investigate potential "gastric dysrhythmias" – abnormal electrical behaviours in the stomach that may contribute to highly symptomatic diseases including indigestion and heartburn – which affect up to 30% of the population and inflict a major burden of suffering and healthcare costs.

These diseases currently sustain a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry, and the GI Joes has included a panel of prominent experts in gastrointestinal clinical research, biomedical engineering and commercialisation in its development of the system.

Spark Steering Committee chair Geoff Whitcher says the company's roadmap is to build value in the product through continued IP growth, prototyping, research and development, and risk elimination.

In coming 3rd equal in this year’s competition, the GI Joes has won three months' incubation with The ICEHOUSE.

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 around the globe with its novel and advanced blend of nanoscience and photocatalytic technology that brings both higher effectiveness 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.

Runner-up the Healthy Memory Company, which aims to reduce memory loss in baby-boomers, won $10,000 seed money and three months’ residence at The ICEHOUSE, with the third equal place-getters OneBeep, which connects computers via radio waves, has been awarded three months in The ICEHOUSE.

Spark, in its eighth year, encourages a spirit of enterprise and culture of innovation at The University of Auckland, and has already established 65 start-up ventures and more than 250 jobs selling products in 22 countries, Mr Whitcher says. This year has seen 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 food products, medical devices, 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 bringing entrepreneurial mindsets to high profile corporate positions, scientists and engineers obtaining an appreciation of the path of commercialisation and importance of intellectual property, social pioneers or graduates continuing business education at top US business schools."