University of Western Australia: Researchers awarded $3.2M state funding to tackle COVID health challenges

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have been awarded $3.2 million in State Government funding to tackle COVID-19 health challenges, including creating a system using smartphones to identify children in need of urgent dental care, investigating how antibodies in breast milk protect babies from the virus and preparing a COVID-19 vaccine rollout for hard-to-reach communities.

UWA was successful in receiving 10 Future Health Research and Innovation (FHRI) Fund Focus Grants, announced today by State Health Minister Roger Cook.

The projects relate to infection prevention and control, surveillance, diagnostics and therapeutics as well as the direct or indirect impact of COVID-19 across a range of health conditions.

Professor Marc Tennant from UWA’s School of Human Sciences was awarded $50,000 to develop a system that allows parents to take photos of their children’s teeth on their smart devices and send them to practitioners for evaluation by offsite dental practitioners.

The dental team can access the database from their desktop, assess the dental photos, and determine whether cases need a referral or can be delayed.

Professor Tennant said the system would ensure access to routine dental care and reduce inappropriate referrals, reducing unnecessary travel and waiting times.

“This approach has the potential to prioritise children based on their dental needs to receive appropriate treatment at the appropriate time,” Professor Tennant said. “It will help to provide potentially low-cost and sustainable preventive dental care for children even during the pandemic.”

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Amit Chakma congratulated the recipients and said the funding showcased the breadth of COVID-19 related research and innovation at UWA.

“The University’s ability to translate knowledge into practice means that this research will directly help Western Australians affected by the COVID-19 global pandemic,” Professor Chakma said.

“Through investment in research and innovation, we can prepare to meet the health and wellbeing needs of communities, both local and global, as we respond to COVID challenges.”

Full list of grant recipients:

Chief investigator: Dr Katie Attwell, School of Social Sciences
Project: How to prepare communities for a COVID-19 vaccine, with research focusing on population groups that remain challenging to reach and at risk of being left behind during a mainstream rollout.
Funding: $249,990

Chief investigator: Professor Marc Tennant, School of Human Sciences
Project: A system that will bring dental consultation online, allowing parents to take photos of their children’s teeth which can be reviewed by clinicians.
Funding: $50,000

Chief investigator: Professor George Milne, School of Physics, Maths and Computing
Project: Perform analytics to determine efficient and cost-effective responses to infectious disease epidemics and pandemics, with application to COVID-19.
Funding: $249,540

Chief investigator: Professor Yit-Heng Chooi, School of Molecular Sciences
Project: Develop a high-throughput platform for screening of drugs that could treat COVID-19.
Funding: $979,980

Chief investigator: Professor Valerie Verhasselt, School of Molecular Sciences
Project: Investigate whether protective immunity is transferred to infants through human milk, which will inform recommendations for best infant care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Funding: $247,830

Chief investigator: Dr Tim Inglis, School of Biomedical Sciences
Project: Develop a suite of diagnostic, treatment and prevention methods, including rapid screening and data processing tools, to help Western Australia cope with the future impacts of COVID-19.
Funding: $250,000

Chief investigator: Professor Bruce Robinson, Institute for Respiratory Health
Project: Development of an advanced digital monitoring and engagement platform to assist people at risk or positive for COVID-19.
Funding: $880,000

Chief investigator: Kathleen Davern, UWA Centre for Medical Research at Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research
Project: Investigate the interaction between COVID-19 and humanised neutralising antibodies, which are produced naturally as a part of an immune response.
Funding: $246,558

Chief investigator: Dr Sandra Salter, School of Allied Health
Project: Establishing a world-first, broad-scale, real-time safety monitoring system for COVID-19 vaccinations given in pharmacies.
Funding: $241,775

Chief investigator: Professor Bu Yeap, UWA Medical School
Project: Investigating how cardiometabolic risk factors and testosterone influence COVID-19 infection rates among men.
Funding: $97,639

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