University of Adelaide scientist Dr Katharina Richter has been named as one of the top 10 innovators in the MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 competition for the Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and Taiwan region.
The awards, which recognise brilliant young minds, are presented annually by MIT Technology Review and EmTech Asia in Singapore. Previous recipients include Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg.
Dr Richter has received the award for her work developing novel treatments to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. “‘Superbugs’, such as Golden Staph, cause 700,000 deaths globally every year and existing antibiotics cannot effectively kill them,” she says.
“New weapons are urgently needed to halt the global rise of superbugs.
“I developed two novel antibacterial treatments that have progressed from lab-based projects at The University of Adelaide to clinical applications, with trials conducted at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide,” says Dr Richter.
The first treatment is a nasal rinse applied after surgery destroying residual bacteria that can cause recurring infections, ongoing ill health and the need for further surgery. The second is a non-toxic wound-healing gel, also applied after surgery, which first starves bacteria and then feeds them the bacterial equivalent of toxic chocolate which the antibiotic-resistant bacteria find irresistible.
“With a current focus on chronic respiratory tract infections, my treatments have the potential to improve the lives of three million Australians – everyone from children to the elderly – who suffer from chronic sinus infections,” Dr Richter says.
“The treatments could effectively kill the superbugs, reducing the need to take antibiotics and preventing surgery which, up to now, have been the only methods of treating this debilitating condition,” says Dr Richter.
Dr Richter has expanded her ground-breaking research by teaming up with researchers, clinicians and industry partners around the globe. Collaborations with pharmaceutical partners are already in progress and are expected to result in innovative technologies. The research is co-funded by the Hospital Research Foundation.
“Results from ongoing clinical trials will help refine the treatments for applications in other infectious diseases,” says Dr Richter. She hopes her treatments will help provide new strategies to tackle the global problem of antibiotic resistance. Dr Richter will present her research to some of the world’s most influential leaders and innovators at the EmTech Asia conference in January 2019.
Dr Jonathan Hall, Director and co-founder of Life Whisperer, has also been recognised as a top 10 innovator in the awards. Life Whisperer, based at the University’s ThincLab venture incubator, has developed an AI-driven, cloud-based image analysis system to improvethe selection of viable embryos for IVF implantation. Dr Hall is an alumnus of the University of Adelaide.