Entry for:2020 Queensland Women in STEM Prize
Australia remains the ‘skin cancer capital of the world’ losing this unwanted mantle can only be achieved through new and innovative approaches to primary prevention. Young Australians continue to report high levels of sun exposure and are increasingly turning away from traditional media. Our challenge therefore is to develop new ways for health promotion messages to reach this group in particular. My research directly addresses this challenge through identifying potential technology solutions and includes using apps, UV indicating stickers, UV cameras and new interactive virtual reality platforms. I am a mid-career researcher in the skin cancer field, and over the last 10 years I have aimed to improve our understanding of the interplay between sun exposure, genetic susceptibility and skin cancer risk.
Queensland has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, which is double that of the United Kingdom and the United States. Sunlight or ultraviolet radiation is the main risk factor for skin cancer. Better managing our time outdoors will reduce our risk of developing skin cancer.
Through my research the Queensland community has had improved access to cutting-edge devices to help prevent skin cancer. My latest work has led to the development of a Sun Diary App, which has been shown to reliably collect personal UVR exposure data. I have continued working on Apps with industry partner mHealth Digital to develop a speedometer of risk for sunburn. This uses cutting-edge sensor data and sophisticated AI software models. The SunVisor App collects UV levels from where you are and along with how sensitive your skin is to the sun. This app was tested during the Commonwealth Games and the Australian Transplant Games on the Gold Coast. Transplant recipients have an increased risk of developing skin cancer due to the immune system suppressing medication they must take. By partnering with Transplant Australia, I was able to work with this at-risk population and add extra design features to the App.
I have also tested UV indicating stickers, which change colour when the sunscreen filter is no longer blocking UV. This illustrates to the user they are no longer protected from the sun. UV indicating stickers had a global launch in Brisbane during 2018 and are now readily available to the public. I tested the effectiveness of UV indicating stickers to improve sun protection behaviours and reduce sunburn in spectators at the Ashes Cricket match at the Gabba in Brisbane, recruiting over 800 participants. The results from this study were encouraging with increased re-application of sunscreen in the sticker group compared to the control group.
I have developed an internet of things smart sunscreen station to objectively measure sunscreen use. The smart sunscreen station records when a sunscreen bottle pump is pushed. The smart sunscreen station is designed for outdoor workplaces. Outdoor workers are at increased risk of developing skin cancer with improvements in sun protection needed. The station can stream data to an online management system to assist health and safety managers in determining: frequency of sunscreen use, temperature where the sunscreen is kept, and alerting when sunscreen containers need replacing. I recently trialled the device in a regional outdoor workplace in Western Queensland.
My work continues to be recognized globally with research presentations at international meetings. My research endeavours have also been recognized by international awards including the European Society for Photobiology fellowship and the International Congress Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Young Scientist Fellow. My international reputation assists to showcase the ground breaking work being undertaken in Queensland.
I participated in community engagement at the World Science Festival in Brisbane. I demonstrated with the general public the UV indicating sticker device and how it functions. I have undertaken research with the Queensland general public at large outdoor gatherings including the Schoolies festival and sporting events, looking at how sun protection awareness can be improved using innovative technology.
Evaluating technology in real world settings is part of my research and is critical to yielding valuable insights for future skin cancer prevention programs. In 2019, over 18,000 school leavers celebrated the end of school on the Gold Coast, I partnered with Queensland Health and the Safer Schoolies initiative to raise awareness of UV exposure during the weeklong outdoor festival. I was onsite recruiting school leavers to participate in a research project to test a UV indicator wristband. All school leavers attending the Gold Coast events in 2019 were given a UV-indicator wristband. The UV-indicator showed the user when sun protection was required by changing colour from white to purple. Over 650 school leavers were recruited to take part in the study to provide feedback and evaluate if the UV-indicator encourages and reminds them to take sun protection measures.
I regularly communicate my latest research findings with the community and have live and pre-recorded appearances on national television news networks including 7News (Sept 2017, April 2018), Ten News (Oct 2017, Nov 2019), SCOPE children’s television show (Jan 2018) and Nine News (May 2018). I have also participated in STEM programs at schools and in 2019 visited a local primary school, where I spoke to students about being a scientist. I also provided them with their own citizen science experience leaving them UV cameras and a smart sunscreen station, to monitor and explore UV radiation and sun protection.
I am both excited and challenged by the opportunities for breakthroughs in science, with the knowledge that this can make a real difference to the lives of Queensland families. Into the foreseeable future, I plan to continue working on preventative strategies to reduce skin cancer and help us better manage our lives in the Queensland sun.