Get to know the judges: Diana Siew

Seven leading experts have joined the judging panel for C-Prize 2017. We’ve asked each of them the same five questions, so that you can get to know them better.

Today marks the start of HealthTech Week here in New Zealand.  So, we’re taking the opportunity to feature one of our judges, Dr Diana Siew, here on the blog. Diana is an Associate Director of the MedTech CoRE and Manager of Strategic Partnerships at the University of Auckland Bioengineering Institute. She is also on the Board of NZ Health IT. Her background is in biomaterials, and experience in research management and early stage technology commercialisation, She is a nationally-recognised expert on Medical Technologies and we are delighted that she is a judge on this year’s panel.

  •  Why is your organisation involved?

The MedTech CoRE is a Tertiary Education Commission funded Centre of Research Excellence hosted by the University of Auckland, in partnership with AUT, Universities of Canterbury and Otago, and Victoria University of Wellington and Callaghan Innovation. We are focused on developing a pipeline of new technologies for use in the healthcare sector, while also nurturing an enhanced MedTech business sector that contributes to the national economy. So, from our point of view the C-Prize aims, especially within the ‘live healthier’ theme, are very complementary to our own.

We have five areas of research focus at the MedTech CoRE, and two of these – Assistive Technologies and Telehealth and Health Informatics, which are both geared towards the population and community health sectors – overlap with the C-Prize.

The CoRE may be interested in working with specific teams after the competition, so that they have continual support.  We also have a wide network of researchers, clinical partners and investors that could be useful.

  • What advice would you give to someone who's thinking about entering this competition?

Don’t be too technical because you only have a finite amount of time to turn your concept into a prototype. But if your idea is relevant to the health industry, it needs be validated clinically. It’s only then that you’ll know whether the technology really has ‘legs'. This also helps to distinguish your product from others. There is a lot of consumer health technology to choose from now, and for yours to stand out, it needs to be based on good scientific and clinical evidence.

For example, there are hundreds of activity apps on the market, but some have more functionality than others. The only way I can identify one as trustworthy, is to see if it has been assessed or validated by a trusted source.

You should also ensure that your idea is not just repeating someone else's work. If it is based on existing technology, you need to be able to articulate why it is different. Then, you should consider whether there is IP involved, because if you are trying to grow a business out of it, investors want to see protectable IP.

And finally, make sure that your team covers a range of different expertise. Although this is a technology challenge, you also need to consider design and functionality, as well as how to pitch and market this. So, it will be useful to have someone from a product design background, plus someone with business expertise, on-board.

  •  How do you think NZ stacks up internationally on the development of wearable tech?

We have lots of good ideas that can be made in NZ for the world, but for me, the key thing is actually finding our niche! To do that, we need to look around for the R&D areas we really excel in.

For example, we've got a National Science Challenge around ageing well; we have Brain Research NZ who do a lot of work around Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; we’ve got the MedTech CORE that specializes in medical technology development including sensors as well as a focus on rehabilitation and assistive technologies. Are any of these possible partnerships? The unique stretchable sensors from Stretch Sense is an example of kiwi ingenuity and excellent science which is being incorporated into wearables. There is also the possibility of developing tech which can truly provide personalised care, based on your own health parameters and physiology.

The Auckland Bioengineering Institute (where the CoRE is hosted) is world-leading in computational models of our organs coupling biology and physiological function; these can help us understand the normal function of our organs, and how this changes with disease.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to apply these models to your wearable if you are trying to track or manage a health condition?

Look at our natural resources too – there is some interesting ‘smart textiles’ work being done with wool and we have a research group at AUT that specialises in in textile and design. By understanding what we are good at and matching this to market need, we can find niches in the global scene.

  • What impact do you hope (or think) that wearables could have on life in New Zealand?

That is a very interesting question. In terms of aiding human performance, you can go from a simple wearable – a pendant or a watch-type device –all the way to an exoskeleton! There are so many different sorts of wearables that we can incorporate into our own lives, but which wearable might be most useful? That would really depend on the needs of the individual. I think in the future, wearables will help augment our decision making about how we lead our lives and provide a better insight into our surroundings.

A network of personalised sensors could warn you not to eat foods that you need to avoid for health reasons, or provide warning of allergen counts in the air. If citizens are collecting air quality data at ground level where living takes place, the data collected could be used to plan healthier cities.

There is an ethical conversation to be had as well, around where all this data is going and does it matter who owns it?  If it comes back only to you so that you can improve your performance, or if it goes to your GP to help manage your heath, then that’s one thing. But if it goes wider than that, perhaps this data could be used to exclude people from certain insurance policies, or stop them from taking up particular professions… if that is the case, then how would we deal with it?

Also, I think that wearables will be fantastic for people who have the financial means, but what about those who can't access the technology because of money, education or age? Sorry if that all seems negative – obviously, there’s a lot of great things to look forward to, but we really need to answer these questions while we’re developing the tech.

  •  What excites you most about this competition?

I think that this year’s competition covers a very current topic. There are so many wearables out there, even in just one class such as activity trackers. They try and provide some personalised data but there must be more functionality that can be included. I would love to see what these teams come up with, and whether their concepts have the legs to go further.

I think companies are now starting to realise that people will buy wearables not only because of functionality but they need to be designed well - easy to use and at least look acceptable if not fashionable.

To some extent. your biggest market is ‘the worried’ well, and these people also look for cool looking technology. I’m looking forward to seeing if anyone can come up with a wearable concept that is also desirable.