'Misunderstood maggots' researcher wins 3MT

Research news
17 August 2015
PhD researcher Natalie Gasz has taken out Deakin's 3MT competition.

Maggots don’t deserve their bad name, claims entomologist, Natalie Gasz, who has just received this year’s Deakin 3MT award for her presentation on “medical maggots – misunderstood superheroes.”

Ms Gasz faced tough competition from nine other finalists, who presented on a broad range of topics from each faculty and the Institute for Frontier Materials.

She was judged on three criteria: her communication style, comprehension and ability to engage a lay audience - and will now represent Deakin at the Trans-Tasman 3MT competition at the University of Queensland on 2 October.

IT researcher Shivapratap Gopakumar received both the runner-up and people’s choice awards for his presentation on “Automatic Prediction of Disease Risk: A pathway to live long and prosper.”

Speaking at the event, Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander said that the competition aims to develop in researchers the ability to deliver the “elevator speech” where participants could “explain the importance of their work so that people can understand the nature of what they do and how they can solve the problems of the communities they serve.”

Within her three-minute time limit, Ms Gasz outlined her efforts to explore the medical potential of maggots – and their “amazing superpower” that is already being harnessed to clean infected wounds, such as diabetic ulcers and pressure sores, but which, she believes, could be extended to fight other chronic external infections by harnessing the bacteria that live inside maggots - including the creation of “infection specific” maggots.

 “With increasing resistance to many antibiotics and the growing threat of super bugs, maggots offer tremendous promise,” she said.

“There are over 900 bacterial species that live within wild flies and maggots, which kill anything that may harm them. Currently, maggots are sterilised before they are put on a wound, but their bacterial sidekicks could actually provide better healing.”

Ms Gasz feels no squeamishness about maggots and argues it is time we rethought our attitude.

“Most people feel repelled by maggots because of the locations they are found in, like rubbish tips and compost bins, but when they are in a sterile lab, they are quite clean,” she said.

“It’s also fun and a challenge trying to change people’s perceptions about them.”

Watch all the finalist action below:

IT researcher Shivapratap Gopakumar impressed the 3MT audience and judges with his “big data” research that is focussing on the development of artificially intelligent medical devices that could be used to improve diagnosis across patient groups and hospitals, particularly for diagnosing heart failure and diabetes – Australia’s fastest growing medical condition.

“The cost of health care in Australia is growing at a rate 10 per cent faster than our GDP,” he said. “This device could help to reduce costs by looking at data such as hospital records and detecting hidden patterns and potentially diagnosing problems sooner.”

The 2015 3MT finalists:

Anas Sultan: IFM, “Towards Biocompatible Medical Implants.”

Sarah Steen: Business and Law, “Do the right thing!” - Towards an understanding of employee’s workplace recycling behaviours.”

Natalie Gasz: Science Engineering and Built Environment, “Medical maggots: Misunderstood superheroes?”

Laura Kraak: Arts and Education, “Human rights-based approaches to World Heritage conservation.”

Rhonda Garad: Health, “Health literacy: an opportunity for a fairer health system.”

Elodie Camprasse: “Science Engineering and Built Environment (Wildcard entrant), "What makes a good parent? An investigation in seabirds.”

Rashad Hasanov: Business and Law, “Regime matters.”

Rebecca Leech: Health, “Understanding adults’ meal patterns.”

Shivapratap Gopakumar: Science Engineering and Built Environment, “Automatic Prediction of Disease Risk: A pathway to live long and prosper.”

Timothy Budge: Arts and Education, “Creating change.”

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Deakin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander and 3MT winner Ms Natalie Gasz. Deakin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander and 3MT winner Ms Natalie Gasz.

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