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Preventing, detecting and treating disease with next-generation smart materials.

From wearable sensors that constantly monitor health and wellbeing to handheld biomedical devices that accurately diagnose and track a range of diseases, the way humans manage their health is rapidly changing. Australia is a major contributor to medtech R&D both locally and globally. According to the Medtech and Pharma Growth Centre (MTP Connect), Australia ranks in the top five for biotech innovation for three years running and the NSW Government is investing heavily in medtech innovation through its $8.2 million per annum Medical Devices Fund.  

At the heart of it all are smart sensors and NSW universities are at the forefront of smart sensing research, discovering and fabricating next-generation sensors that are bio-compatible and nanoscale.  Sensors that are non-invasive, cost-effective and lead to enhanced quality of life. 

Partnering with the NSSN, companies access expertise and technology from across NSW’s leading universities and gain an enduring competitive advantage. Some of the exciting R&D projects already taking place throughout the network include:

Researchers at ANU are developing optical sensors which can be integrated into wearable devices for medical diagnostics. These ultra-small sensors can be used to detect very small metabolites in skin and breath with the ability to track health in real time. This technology can be integrated into a range of applications from agriculture through to space exploration.

Researchers at UNSW have developed a paper-based sun exposure sensor that gradually changes colour in response to an increase in UV radiation from the sun. These sensors are made of benign materials such as food dye and readily produced using ink-jet printing. The colour change can be tuned to individual skin types, providing users a visual indication when they are at risk of overexposure. These sensors can play an effective role in reducing the high rate of skin cancer in Australia, by protecting people, especially children, from frequent sunburn. 

Researchers at the University of Sydney have developed sensors that can be attached to the body or woven into clothing. These sensors have countless possibilities to sense fine and course movements corresponding to vital signs such as heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, temperature, or musculoskeletal motion. This technology has further application for monitoring patients in hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities and next-generation home monitoring. 

Researchers at Macquarie University and UNSW are developing plasmonic sensors for DNA, RNA and proteins that are based on the colour shifts that occur when gold/silver nanoparticles interact with target materials. These nanoparticles can be seen on test strips (similar to home pregnancy tests), or potentially by a smartphone camera. These methods are being used to detect bacteria such as Salmonella, cytokines and low levels of DNA, RNA and microRNA for diagnosis of viral infections, cancer and other diseases. 

Working with the NSSN simplifies the process of engaging with universities by creating a single point-of-contact for the leading research-intensive universities in NSW. The network recently connected Opus Medical with a researcher from the University of Sydney in motion management solutions to assist radiation therapy/medical imaging procedures. Funding for this project was initiated through a NSW TechVoucher where 50% of the costs were met by the NSW Government. 

Access to cutting-edge research equipment can be difficult to arrange without university partners, and with over 50 centres of excellence, collaborative research centres and industrial training centres spread across the NSSN, access to world-class equipment is readily available.  

Navigating the ever-changing medtech space is challenging, working with universities should not be.

With the support of the NSW Government, the NSSN is your one-stop shop for multi-disciplinary expertise and technology. 

To find out how the NSSN can help solve your challenges, please contact Amanda Hayes at (02) 9385 5451 or



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Sun Sensors


The Challenge

Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer and melanoma in the world. About 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are linked to overexposure of UV radiation from the sun. 

Diligent use of sunscreen offers effective prevention but requires that individuals be aware of UV levels and when they are becoming over-exposed for their specific skin type. 

Children are particularly susceptible to sunburn, with research indicating that repetitive sunburn leads to a significantly increased risk of skin cancer in later life. 


The Solution

NSSN researchers at UNSW, led by Co-Director, Justin Gooding, prepared a simple, single-use sensor that uses inexpensive, non-toxic materials printed onto paper, using a standard inkjet printer. The indicator material is based on a common food dye that changes colour when exposed to UV radiation, thus informing the user when to re-apply sunscreen or move out of the sun.

The colour change can be tuned to match exposure time limits for different skin types, giving a visual indication to users that allows them to easily see when they are at risk of overexposure.

Created with existing materials and manufacturing technologies, the sensor has the potential to deliver long-term benefits to public health.


The Result

This groundbreaking research has resulted in academic publications and the commercialisation of the product with an industry partner. The sun sensor patch is anticipated to be available on the market in time for the upcoming summer season. 

The project was a finalist in the prestigious Australian Museum Eureka Awards 2018 in the Innovative Use of Technology category.