The first official meeting of the 10 finalists seeking to boost the Pilbara’s struggling healthcare industry has just taken place in Karratha with some groundbreaking health technology on display. The State Government health initiative, known as The Challenge, had its first meet-up event at the Red Earth Centre on Friday, July 21 with the region’s public health officials and community in attendance to discuss the difficulties in delivering healthcare in the region. From more than 100 worldwide submissions, the 10 finalists were announced last month, and this is the first time they have been able to discuss and show off their new high-tech healthcare solutions. Over the next 12 months each finalist will roll out their ideas and try to overcome the known barriers to regional healthcare including, the extreme distances, harsh climate conditions, labour shortages, language and cultural differences, and high costs. One of these programs is the DermR patch, a new invention that seeks to reimagine the prescreening process for skin cancer by allowing patients to self-collect skin cells through a new painless patch technology. Chief executive of DermR Health Solutions Stefan Mazy said it was nice to see a government program that actually addressed the deficiencies in regional healthcare rather than just talk about it. “It’s very rare that you see efforts to actually implement a solution,” he said. “Politicians love to talk about the problem but they rarely do something about it in my experience. “Here we’re actually getting to have an impact in a really underserved community.” Mr Mazy said that while the DermR patch could be used throughout the healthcare industry, he chose to launch it in The Challenge because of the way it addressed the unique problems in the Pilbara. “We wanted to create a solution that could allow people to self-collect a sample without having to visit a doctor,” he said. “When we saw The Challenge for the Pilbara we thought that this is exactly our target market. “You look at the vast size of the Pilbara region, with our project a patient can self-collect a sample without having to visit a GP in order to understand if there is a problem in the first place.” Mr Mazy also said that DermR Health Solutions had come up with a new way to diagnose skin cancer which needed only five skin cells to identify cancerous tissue. “Effectively the skin biopsy process hasn’t really evolved in 150 years and you need someone to look at the tissue and make a manual decision which requires a lot of tissue,” he said. “We’ve developed leverage on gene expression where we are able to look at certain mutations alive in the actual cell that are associated with skin cancer. “A biopsy uses one magnifying glass whereas we use 100 magnifying glasses.” Mr Mazey said the DermR patch is incredibly quick to use which will allow doctors to see more patients, which is important given the shortage of GPs in the Pilbara, and it can also be administered by nurses who aren’t allowed to perform a traditional biopsy. He said that 50, 000 biopsies on non-cancerous tissue are unnecessarily taken every year and estimates that the DermR patch could potentially save the State Government $40 million. Other finalists include the Lyfe Language program, which translates complex medical terminology into Indigenous languages, and the Lions Outback Vision project which created the first fully AI-integrated retinal camera in Australia that can travel around in a mobile vehicle. Minister for Health Stephen Dawson said AI projects were key to solving health problems in the Pilbara. “It’s a challenging environment that we are in, we struggle to keep health experts here, and if you live in a remote community you have to travel long distances to get to a doctor or the local hospital,” he said. “So we need to look at the solutions given to us by AI and digital technology.” Each finalist was awarded $200 000 to implement their project and test its feasibility over a 12-month period with the winner to be announced in October 2024.