Macquarie | The Nano SunWatch | A guardian against skin cancer

Awards category
The Problem Solver Award
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A skin cancer diagnosis is made every 30 minutes in Australia and more Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined. Heartbreakingly, more than 2,000 Australians die every year.

That’s where Macquarie University’s Associate Professor Noushin Nasiri is making a significant impact. Professor Nasiri has developed a wearable Smart UV Nanosensing device, the SunWatch, that measure’s the UV Index in real-time and calibrates it to the user’s skin type.

Professor Nasiri hopes the SunWatch will positively impact health outcomes by empowering users to understand – and respond proactively to – their maximum sun-safe limits.  

The device is currently under evaluation by the Dafodil Centre and, given Professor Nasiri has developed the necessary electronics and software, she hopes to commercialise her innovation. The device has real opportunity to help people with higher risk of skin cancer, those who work outdoors and children who are exposed to UV radiation during school and sporting activities.

Finalist - Associate Professor Noushin Nasiri

"The Melanoma Institute Australia recently commissioned a landmark report calling for increased action to tackle the alarming incidence of melanoma in Australia. The report, title ‘State of the Nation – A report into Melanoma, A National Health Priority’ recommended the implementation of a national melanoma prevention campaign that includes sun-safety in schools and sporting fields. The report noted that without action, 205,000 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma between today and 2030 at a cost of over $8.7 billion in economic loss.

Melanoma is preventable, and it is possible to achieve zero deaths from this disease. Australia has historically shown leadership in skin cancer prevention campaigns, but there has been a recent under investment and much more is needed to improve skin protective behaviours. Noushin's SunWatch could have a significant impact on sun protection awareness. Imagine an inexpensive and discrete device provided to every Australian school student, to be worn as part of their school uniform, delivering real-time monitoring of UV exposure personalised for every child, with data available to parents and teachers.

A significant design element is the potential to personalise a wearable sensor with phenotype and genotype data could be transformative in skin cancer prevention. For instance, individuals carrying MC1R variants, especially those associated with red hair colour and fair skin, have a higher risk of developing melanoma, and require sensors personalised to their risk profile. To my knowledge, there is no other technology that combines all these essential characteristics while providing the level of flexibility and sensitivity offered by SunWatch.

Noushin has my highest recommendation for this award. She is an outstanding and talented early career researcher who has developed an innovative and impactful technology, leading to consistent implementation of sun protection, promoting lifelong behavioural changes, and saving the lives of Australians who die of melanoma each year."

Professor Helen Rizos

Professor,Cancer Research, Macquarie University, Chair of Research Committee, Melanoma Institute Australia

"I am the President of Australian Academy of Science, Distinguished Professor of Physics at the ANU, the Convenor of Australian Nanotechnology Network, and the recipient of the Thomas Ranken Lyle Medal (2019), the Beattie Steel Medal (2019), and the UNESCO medal for the development of nanoscience and nanotechnologies (2018).

Associate Professor Noushin Nasiri has taken an exceptionally innovative approach in her research to develop a band-selective UV photodetector that can successfully differentiate between solar UVA and UVB rays. This novel approach has enabled the creation of a portable Smart UV Nanosensing device, the SunWatch. The SunWatch blends problem-solving technology with human-centred design to make information about UV exposure easily available to users. Unlike many researchers at her career stage, Noushin has developed the necessary electronics and software to commercialise her fundamental discoveries about nanotechnology and make them publicly accessible.

This innovation will greatly benefit the Australian and global community by improving sun safety and awareness. Noushin’s technology has been widely reported by influential media outlets, including Channel 9 News, Channel 10 News First, and 2GB radio, and has attracted attention from national and international companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Beamers Australia.

Due to the significance of her research, Noushin has been awarded accolades that include the 2021-2022 Superstar of STEM from Science & Technology Australia and the 2019 NSW Young Tall Poppy Award. She was also named as one of the 40 under 40 most influential Asian-Australian leaders in 2021 (Asian-Australian Leadership Summit).

Noushin is widely known for her promotion of Australian science and technology. She continues to excel not only as an excellent scientist, but also as a skilled and committed science communicator and three-times TEDx speaker."

Professor Chennupati Jagadish

President of the Australian Academy of Science, Distinguished Professor of Physics at the Australian National University‍

"I am the Chief Operating Officer of the NSW Smart Sensing Network. The remit of the NSSN is to advance smart sensing research and to position NSW as a global leader in smart sensing innovation. The network is an exemplar of the triple helix model of innovation that is focussed on commercialising Australia’s research enterprise. In running an organisation like the NSSN, I have an in-depth understanding of both the capability and market for NSW/ACT R&D in smart sensing.

In a country like Australia, where more than 16,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year and an outdoor lifestyle is cherished, Dr Nasiri’s research will make a significant impact. Her research has resulted in the development of a wearable UV-sensor that alerts the user in real-time to over-exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. The “Sun Watch” will make it easier for users to make their own informed health decisions while maintaining access to an active, outdoor lifestyle. Dr Nasiri’s “Sun Watch” will be significantly more affordable than its most similar competitor – the “Shade UV Sensor”. This US technology currently retails for USD$500, whereas Dr Nasiri’s sensor costs less than $40.

As we have seen with devices like the FitBit and Apple Watch, the market for wearable devices that inform and encourage healthy lifestyles is enormous and growing. Trusted market analysts, Grand View Research, value the global wearable technology market at USD32.63 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 15.9% to 2027. Dr Nasiri’s work is leading to the development of an Australian-made device that can tap into this lucrative market. Australians have very high standards when it comes to their health. The personalisation, ease-of use and accuracy offered by the “Sun Watch” make it an extremely attractive innovation from both a commercial and public health perspective."

Nicholas Haskins

Chief Operating Officer, NSW Smart Sensing Network

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