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Foundation Expands Investments in Innovative Global Health Science | Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Grand Challenges Explorations projects winning new grants include using gold to combat drug resistance and barriers of light to prevent malaria

SEATTLE--The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced the next stage of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative that encourages bold and unconventional ideas for global health. Nine outstanding Grand Challenges Explorations grantees have received new funding of up to $1 million each to support continued research on their innovative work. Grants include projects that aim to create new cellular profiling techniques to improve vaccine effectiveness, use gold nanocrystals to combat drug resistance, and confuse mosquitoes with infrared light to reduce malaria transmission.

“The projects we are announcing today prove the value of investing in truly novel ideas to support global health,” said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Global Health Program at the Gates Foundation. “In the first two years of the Grand Challenges Explorations program we have funded 340 projects and if even one of these ideas comes to fruition it could save countless lives.”

The Grand Challenges Explorations projects that are receiving additional funding have shown success during their initial grant period and align with the foundation’s strategic global health priorities, including vaccines, family health, and infectious disease. The grantees come from diverse disciplines and are at various stages in their careers, but share a common goal—to make breakthrough advances that lead to new solutions to improve health worldwide.

Examples of projects that have received a second phase of funding:

  • Dr. Mark Davis from Stanford University is working to create a new method to quantify and profile cellular immune responses to vaccinations, specifically for the influenza and rotavirus vaccines, to improve effectiveness.
  • Dr. Dan Feldheim at the University of Colorado is exploring how small molecule-coated gold nanocrystals could be tailored to circumvent many viral and bacterial evolutionary drug resistance mechanisms.
  • Dr. Szabolcs Márka and his team from Columbia University are developing a way to create light barriers that can avert mosquitoes from finding their human targets and ultimately reduce malaria transmission.
  • Dr. Keith Jerome at the University of Washington is pursuing a way to cure latent HIV infection using novel proteins called homing endonucleases to interfere with HIV DNA in infected cells, effectively eliminating the virus from these cells.
  • Dr. Pradipsinh Rathod at the University of Washington is working on strategies to disable hypermutagenesis in malaria parasites during malaria therapy to improve success rates and increase the staying power of new antimalarial drugs.
“Our continued investments in these projects are designed to achieve the highest possible impact, for the greatest number of people, over the longest period of time,” said Chris Wilson, director of the Global Health Discovery program at the Gates Foundation. “We have set ambitious goals that we know we cannot accomplish alone - we hope that other researchers and funders will join us in our efforts to broaden the pipeline of ideas to save lives.”

This new phase of funding represents the continuing evolution of the Grand Challenges family of programs. The Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative was launched in 2003 to foster innovation in global health science. Two years later, forty five grants totaling $458 million were awarded to projects involving scientists in 33 countries. Funding from the Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research has supported projects on topics such as improving childhood vaccines and creating new ways to control insects that spread disease.

Grand Challenges Explorations, launched in 2008 with an additional $100 million commitment, expanded on the Grand Challenges concept by offering scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs the chance to earn $100,000 grants to test novel concepts. In the first two years of the program 340 researchers from 34 countries have received these initial grants to test out-of-the-box ideas. The nine projects announced today will receive up to $1,000,000 to follow up on the promising results they demonstrated in their preliminary research.

Applications for the next round of Grand Challenges Explorations will be accepted through November 2, 2010. Topics for Round 6 are:

  • The Poliovirus Endgame: Create Ways to Accelerate, Sustain and Monitor Eradication
  • Design New Approaches to Cure HIV Infection
  • Create the Next Generation of Sanitation Technologies
  • Create Low-Cost Cell Phone-Based Applications for Priority Health Conditions
  • Create New Technologies to Improve the Health of Mothers and Newborns
Grant application instructions, including the list of topic areas in which proposals are currently being accepted, are available at the Grand Challenges Explorations website: www.grandchallenges.org/explorations.

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