WA’s Young Tech Innovator Wins State Award For Cancer Detecting Software

Kira Molloy INCITE Awards

When 19-year old science and computing undergraduate Kira Molloy undertook a work placement this summer, little did she know she would be winning a prestigious State Award and playing an important role in advancing cancer research. Her award-winning computer program is now used to more efficiently identify tumours in patients and also significantly reduce the re-excision rate in breast conserving surgeries.

After her first year studying Bachelor of Advanced Science at Curtin University, Kira leapt at the opportunity to spend her 2019 summer break contributing to cancer research and getting industry experience with the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.

“Almost everyone has been affected or knows someone who has been affected by cancer,” said Kira. 

“Of course I have heard of the world class research work that the Perkins Institute is doing and I wanted to get involved in helping a good cause that will translate to lasting health benefits for many people.”

The tech and digital project

Early into her placement, Kira noticed that researchers and pathologists had no user friendly way of visualising Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scans. The OCT scans show tissue structure underneath the surface of the skin and compare these to histology scans - imagery that shows the microscopic tissue structure. 

Like many in the medical and research fields, Kira saw the endless positive benefits of OCT scans in developing techniques to identify cancer tissues more effectively and significantly reduce the re-excision rate in breast conserving surgeries. 

“Before my project, researchers and pathologists would be required to learn the basics of coding before being able to use OCT scans, which to me was not an effective use of time and resources,” explained Kira.

“So I came up with the idea to make OCT scans software more user friendly, with no coding experience required, via a computer program that would appeal to the main users of the software.” 

“I know how important the work of the researchers and pathologists are in advancing prevention, detection and invasion of cancer and saw a technology solution for making their jobs easier and more effective.”

The software is now being used regularly by researchers at Harry Perkins Institute, many of whom were unable to perform these detailed visualisation tasks prior to Kira’s innovation.

The WAITTA INCITE Awards

Kira’s successful project has also extended to winning the 28th WAIITA INCITE Awards for the Peter Fillery Undergraduate Tertiary Student Project of the Year Category. 

The INCITE Awards is Western Australia’s premier awards - recognising, celebrating and advocating our State’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry and digital innovators. 

Sue Findlay, Chairperson of the WAITTA (Western Australian Information Technology and Telecommunications Alliance) INCITE Awards, praised Kira’s dedication and ingenuity.

“It’s fantastic to see such valuable digital projects from WA young innovators like Kira. Her passion and commitment to using technology as a potential life-changing solution is one of the main reasons for winning an INCITE Award in June this year,” commented Sue.  

Kira commented that her WAITTA INCITE Awards win has been beneficial in many ways, including:

  • Showcasing the work that Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research are doing,
  • Showing how technology can be used for the better, to improve the medical field.
  • Encouraging other first year students to pursue industry placement.

“Being part of the INCITE Awards this year has shown me the amazing community that we have in Perth that supports innovation,” said Kira.

“I have learnt that there are so many opportunities out there, even for a small city like Perth and it is so important to put yourself out there and take every opportunity you can get.”

What’s next for Kira?

Kira’s dedication to community work and innovative technology is further evident through her role as  a leader in the Coding 4 Girls program - teaching girls in Year 2 and 3 teaches to program robots - and by winning the New Colombo Plan Scholarship - giving her internships at the Genome Institute of Singapore and Google Singapore.

Further information on Kira’s award winning project: https://bit.ly/2N3SJ2x 

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