Industry breakfast inspiring regional innovation

Industry breakfast inspiring regional innovation

The University of Newcastle is hosting their inaugural Industry PhD Breakfast event for business and industry representatives to explore powerful new pathways to innovation.

Featuring accounts of local success stories, the event is an opportunity for businesses to connect with the University and start a conversation about their specific research and development (R&D) challenges.

For speech pathology student Hollie-Ann Shortland and her industry host, Myo Munchee, a PhD industry placement is providing the ideal pathway to evaluate the feasibility of myofunctional devices – therapeutic devices aimed at treating potentially life-threatening issues in vulnerable populations associated with oral health and swallowing disorders.

Hollie-Ann conducted a clinical trial on the use of Myo Munchee’s myofunctional device, ‘The Munchee’ in vulnerable aged care populations as a core part of her PhD. Similar in appearance to a mouthguard, the device has tiny silicon bristles which the wearer bites down on and chews, assisting a range of possible health benefits including cleaner teeth and gums, appropriate positioning of the tongue, lip closure, and increased jaw strength and function.

Hollie-Ann explained that the device is used in the United States and Europe by Speech Pathologists and in dentistry, however, it has been slower to gain traction in its use in Australia within the Speech Pathology profession, despite being invented here by a dentist in Maitland.

“The limited studies with a strong evidence base have likely played a significant role in that,” Hollie-Ann said.

“My PhD project achieved the first systematic review of myofunctional devices and therapies globally. Predominantly it focusses specifically on use of The Munchee in improving oral hygiene and assisting in preventing the development of aspiration pneumonia which is a potentially fatal condition arising from inhalation of food particles left in the mouth after eating.

“By undertaking the first ever review of scientific literature on myofunctional devices, we were able to see what evidence was out there, and perhaps more importantly, what gaps existed,” Hollie-Ann said.

“My clinical trial, while not yet published, is seeking to fill some of those gaps. All this work has now laid the groundwork for studies on other patient populations and other health issues.

“As a clinical speech pathologist for almost twenty years, it’s been incredibly rewarding to know my PhD is contributing to new knowledge in my field. The end goal here is to improve and prolong lives, which is extremely tangible and motivating,” Hollie-Ann said.

Myo Munchee CEO, Mary Bourke said that while their product had been around for over 50 years and had been shown to be very beneficial in many clinical applications, it lacked the objective research they knew would be crucial for market expansion.

“The PhD placement collaboration will be transformational for us as a small business. We’ve unearthed areas of application we hadn’t considered and paved the way for exciting new growth,” Mary said.

Dean of Graduate Research, Professor Kylie Shaw said the University was committed to supporting more PhD industry placements in the region, and that students were making an impact in short and long-term placements in industries such as engineering, advanced manufacturing, defence, local government, business, health, and education.

“Global rankings schemes consistently reinforce our research across a wide range of disciplines,” Kylie said.

“Our students, backed by this incredible network and cutting-edge research facilities, are ideally placed to drive meaningful outcomes for business and industry.

“By hosting this breakfast event, we hope to unearth businesses who have a problem to solve but may not have considered taking the problem into their own hands or didn’t know where to look for solutions.

“For students, the prospect of undertaking research in a ‘live’ industry setting means no time delay from knowledge generation to real-world implementation and impact, which besides being incredibly motivating, is potent real-world experience they’ll have for life. It’s a win-win scenario,” Kylie said.


IMAGE | PhD student, Hollie-Ann Shortland and her Myo Munchee industry host representative

University of Newcastle

The University of Newcastle is ranked in the top 3% of universities in the world according to two global independent ranking systems, and in the top 200 universities in the world for medicine. 

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