Wearable technology to fight Australia’s national cancer

Early career researcher Associate Professor Antonio Tricoli was one of the first 100 Westpac Scholars selected by the newly established Westpac Bicentennial Foundation. His Westpac Research Fellowship, co-funded by The Australian National University, is helping to fund his dream of applying nanotechnology to fight against Australia’s national cancer, melanoma.

When Italian-born Antonio Tricoli came to Australia four years ago, he noticed he was more susceptible to burning in the harsh Australian sun.

As he looked further into this phenomenon, he discovered Australia has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world, causing an estimated 1,500 Australians to die each year. That’s one person every six hours. As a scientist, Antonio has always loved solving problems, and tackling ‘Australia’s national cancer’ was a problem definitely worth solving.

With its main preventable cause being overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, Antonio is applying his expertise in nanotechnology to detect the rays that are most dangerous to humans.

“My goal is to engineer low-cost UV light detectors for wearable electronics, such as smart watches, sport and protective equipment, to allow continuous monitoring of UV light exposure,” Antonio said.

“The detectors will be so small that they could be integrated in the clothes we wear, even our swimming suits. When the UV rays become harmful, we would get a warning sent to our smart phone or smart watch that tells us, alright you need to be careful.”

Co-funded by The Australian National University, the Fellowship is providing the critical funding needed to progress Antonio’s research to a potentially commercial level.

“Without the Fellowship I wouldn’t be able to work on this technology,” he said.

“If this work can help, even a little bit, to save lives, then I will be very happy to spend my life trying. It’s nice that I can give something back that will help Australians enjoy the beautiful outdoors as safely as possible.”

Antonio was one of four outstanding early career researchers to receive the inaugural Westpac Research Fellowship during the year, the first of its kind in Australia. Westpac Bicentennial Foundation has collaborated with Australia’s leading research universities to offer a holistic package of support for early career researchers, with a financial value of around $2.5 million.

Westpac Bicentennial Foundation was launched in 2014 with a one-off contribution of $100 million to fund 100 scholarships a year, forever. Established as a gift to the nation to mark Westpac’s bicentenary next year, it’s an investment in people from all walks of life, like Antonio, with the ideas and potential to shape a better future for all Australians.

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