AHEAD - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Joanne MacDonald's team
AHEAD - Product Development Partnership

AHEAD is a highly regarded and cohesive group of Australian and international partners formed to Accelerate development of Human, Environmental, and Animal Diagnostics. We believe that more accessible, affordable, accurate and accelerated detection of diseases is critical for better management of disease treatment, and essential for global eradication goals.


AHEAD's mission is effective development and delivery of diagnostic tools for diseases affecting humans, animals, and the environment. Only with a combined One Health approach can we truly combat poverty and disadvantage.

Human Diagnostics

AHEAD is accelerating diagnostics for TB and Malaria. These new, highly effective molecular diagnostics for human TB and malaria are able to sensitively and rapidly detect genetic biomarkers without any specialised equipment. We will make the tests available to target populations in the Indo-Pacific region and globally, improving access to fast and effective disease treatment and surveillance in low resource settings. In addition, a malaria mosquito test will also be developed for more effective surveillance of malaria in mosquitoes. AHEAD’s goal is to register new TB and malaria products for patient use in the Indo-Pacific by 2022.

Animal Diagnostics

Our HENDRA AHEAD project aims to reduce the pain and suffering that has been experienced in equestrian and veterinary communities as a result of Hendra. AHEAD aims to accelerate a rapid Hendra test towards the market by mid-2019, for veterinary use with symptomatic horses, as well as for Hendra screening at equestrian events. We are currently fundraising to meet this goal. You can make your donation online through this link to USC.

Vector-Borne Diseases

AHEAD is accelerating diagnostics for detecting Malaria in mosquitoes, to enable better screening of this pathogen in communities. AHEAD aims to have a malaria in mosquito diagnostic available for community use by 2021.

Water Security

AHEAD’s product platforms are highly relevant to improving detection of pathogens in water. Currently, water testing requires cold-chain shipping of samples to a central facility for testing. Often water is either consumed or used before the results of the testing becomes available. AHEAD’s goal is to develop rapid field-side tests to enable communities to better ensure the safety of their water.

Food Security

AHEAD’s product platforms are highly relevant to ensuring greater food security through sensitive and rapid detection of pathogens. We are seeking engagement with stakeholders in this area.

PCR assay
Platform technology

AHEAD has identified new diagnostic technologies that can address the critical need for improving access in low-resource facilities, suitable for accelerated development. These are based on a new molecular diagnostic platform technology for rapid, sensitive, and low-resource detection of genetic biomarkers.

Platform Technology Advantages and Benefits
  • No overly-specialized equipment required, not even a centrifuge; only the ability to heat samples to 39 °C for a portion of the test using a battery powered device: suitable for low-resource implementation in laboratories without constant power supplies.
  • Uses a simple procedure: could be performed by health-care workers or government personnel with minimal training, reducing the need to ship samples to central laboratories.
  • Rapid detection of genetic biomarkers: from sample to result in 20-40 minutes; enabling same-day result without having to return on a second day to respond to test results
  • Detects up to 7 biomarkers in a single test kit: convenient for reduced price testing and saving on labor and sample costs, compared to performing multiple tests.
  • Detection of diagnostic output data via a smartphone app for ultra-simplified use: (similar to a QR code reader) can also improve data storage and reporting, results interpretation, and provide information on potential treatment options.
Development Context

There is a critical need for enhanced diagnostic techniques to more accurately and efficiently plan, monitor, and guide disease management and elimination programs.


AHEAD is a product development partnership emerging from USC’s Centre for International Development, Social Entrepreneurship and Leadership office. Together, our public and private partners provide strong backgrounds critical to develop needs in Tropical Health around the globe. Through innovative technologies, our projects intend to increase accessibility, affordability, accuracy, and speed of tropical disease diagnostics.

AHEAD team

A/Prof Joanne MacDonald

Chief Research Officer

A/Prof Macdonald is the lead scientific researcher at USC, and co-founder and CTO of AHEAD's private partner, BioCifer Pty. Ltd. A/Prof Macdonald has successfully managed multi-million dollar, multi-site, product development projects. She holds a joint appointment with Columbia University (New York, USA).

Tami Harriott

Chief Operations Officer 

Tami is a gender and diversity specialist with over 20 years’ experience in Finance in the United States and Australia and has held senior roles in Construction, Health Care and Fashion.

Julie Coulthard

Chief Strategy Officer

Julie is a communications and project management specialist with an extensive history shaping policy, procedure and process for company mergers, major change management and new organisation formation. As a qualified journalist and public relations consultant Julie also brings more than 15 years' experience in corporate communications and publicity to the program.

AHEAD Partners

A robust, unified collective of internationally renowned professionals, government agencies, and companies.

Our partners include:

  • QIMR-Berghofer, Brisbane, QLD
  • The Australian Defence Force Malaria & Infectious Disease Institute, Brisbane, QLD
  • BioCifer, Sunshine Coast, QLD
  • Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU), Bangkok, Thailand
  • PNG Institute of Medical Research, Goroka, PNG
  • Burnet Institute, Melbourne, VIC
  • James Cook University, Cairns, QLD
  • Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Honiara, Solomon Islands
  • Atomo Diagnostics, Sydney, NSW
  • University of KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  • Lumos Diagnostics, Carlsbad, CA USA
  • Planet Innovation, Melbourne, VIC