George Idis, Director of IDE, Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Martin Engel and Minister for Health and Medical Research, Brad Hazzard. Photo by Kat Stanley.

Skin cell to stem cell technology for developing treatment against brain disorders 

IHMRI postdoctoral researcher, Dr Martin Engel, has been awarded the IDE Group Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at a medical technology graduation event run by Cicada Innovations last week in Sydney.

The prize is $50,000 towards Dr Engel’s research into brain disorder treatments.

Dr Engel is developing the technology to grow mini-brains from the skin cells of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia in the stem cell laboratories of Dr Lezanne Ooi at IHMRI.

“Two hundred million people worldwide suffer from a brain disorder because of a lack of effective treatments,” Dr Engel said.

Dr Engel graduated from a 12-week course at “super incubator” Cicada Innovations that supports researchers translating their IP and science from the laboratory to potential commercial markets.

The “Medical Device Commercialisation Training Program” (MDCTP) is an initiative of NSW Health to accelerate the commercialisation of medical technologies to improve healthcare outcomes.

“The MDCTP has helped me to map out the essential steps to take my technology from today’s development stage to servicing the first customer,” said Dr Engel.

Producing the mini-brains in the laboratory is a delicate and laborious task.

It takes six months to grow the brain clusters from skin cells and up to 20 per cent of the cultured cells die when being transferred for the next stage of development.

“The mini-brains are very fragile and are particularly vulnerable when being moved from one dish to another for the next stage of growth,” said Dr Engel.

“I need to produce hundreds of these brain pieces to test just one therapeutic drug so the more mini-brains that survive, the more efficient the research will be and could lead to positive outcomes sooner,” Dr Engel added.

The $50,000 prize money will help with the development of a medical device to assist the research at IHMRI.

Picture: George Sidis, Director of IDE, Postdoctoral researcher Dr Martin Engel, and Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research The Hon. Brad Hazzard, MP. Photo by Kat Stanley.

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