Dr Aaron Collins wins 2020 Dean’s Innovation Grant

Research Engineer Dr Aaron Collins was awarded $50,000 as part of the 2020 Dean’s Innovation Grant – funding that will allow him to develop a surgical tool to improve Indigenous ear health otitis media, a condition endemic amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Indigenous Australian children have the highest reported rate of otitis media and burst ear drums in the world).

Dr Aaron Collins
Dr Aaron Collins

Hearing loss can be prevented with surgical repair of the perforation; however, a third of these ears will still need a hearing aid, with the associated costs, for life. Persistent conductive hearing loss after successful surgery could be related to reduced mobility of the ossicles undetectable by surgeons. Dr Collin’s approach to determining the stiffness of the ossicles is to adapt the inexpensive ISQ (implant stability quotient) system which is used to assess the stability of dental implants. This system uses magnetic resonance to infer stability, or stiffness, of the implants once fitted.

Dr Collin’s concept involves coupling a small magnet to ossicles during surgery to repair the eardrum and measure these vibrations of the ossicle to infer its stiffness and then removing the magnet. If the surgeon knows that the ossicles are stiff, they can immediately proceed to operate on the ossicles to restore their movement, and improve the hearing of Indigenous people with otitis media.

Melbourne Dental School’s Dr Tami Yap was also awarded $50,000 to progress a screen tool to help detect oral cancer early. The four other shortlisted candidates – Dr Chris French from the Melbourne Medical School; Dr Nancy Wang from the School of Biomedical Sciences; Dr Driss Ait Ouakrim from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health; and Dr Andrew Buultjens from the School of Biomedical Sciences – were also commended by the judges for their promising projects ranging from diagnostic tools to a health intervention evaluation program.