University researchers win prestigious KiwiNet awards

A Victoria University of Wellington researcher, and a Master’s student have won awards at the 2019 KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards. These awards are designed to recognise and celebrate impact from science through successful research commercialisation.

Dr Shalen Kumar and Cynthia Hunefeld
Dr Shalen Kumar and Cynthia Hunefeld

Dr Shalen Kumar, who is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the University’s School of Biological Sciences, won the Norman Barry Foundation Breakthrough Innovator Award for his start-up company AuramerBio.

AuramerBio is developing mobile testing solutions for uses such as illicit drug detection, and fertility. They currently offer tests that can detect eight target molecules in saliva in under three minutes, with more tests in development for steroid and protein hormones, environmental contaminants, amino acids, nutritional compounds, and various biomarkers used as diagnostics. Their tests use aptamers (synthetic bio-receptors) to produce results.

Dr Kumar started researching aptamers as an undergraduate student at Victoria University of Wellington, eventually turning his research into AuramerBio with the help of Viclink, the University’s commercialisation arm. Dr Kumar has a passion for providing high quality, robust, and sensitive medical diagnostic solutions for third world communities and environmental monitoring.

Cynthia Hunefeld, Master of Innovation and Commercialisation student from Victoria Business School, received the Momentum Student Entrepreneur Award.

Cynthia has a background in clinical herbal medicine and clinical research, holding a Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Research from the University. After using a plant extract to help her father overcome an antibiotic-resistant infection, she began researching plant-based treatments for different infections. She is currently working to develop a plant-based treatment for E. coli induced urinary tract infections, for which there is currently a shortage of new medicines. She is aiming to develop a dietary supplement by 2020 and an evidence-based integrative medicine within three years.

Cynthia has previously received a regional AMP scholarship and pre-seed Momentum funding for her work.

“Our awards finalists are the entrepreneurial champions that are leading the transformation of our economy from high-volume to high-value.  The success stories we are celebrating today are bringing vital science-based solutions to the world that will drive future prosperity for New Zealand,” says KiwiNet CEO James Hutchinson.

Dr Brendan Darby, Postdoctoral Researcher in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences and CEO of Marama Labs, and Geoff Todd, former head of Viclink, were also finalists for the awards.