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Is it Possible to Identify Illness in Newborns from their Cry?

This is one of many bold ideas attracting investment from the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative to address global health and development challenges

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

SEATTLE (May 21, 2013) – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced more than US $8.1 million in new grants through its Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative. GCE is a phased grant program that funds innovative ideas to tackle key global health and development problems, and provides additional resources for projects that demonstrate promise.

Fifty-eight projects from 18 countries will receive $100,000 grants. These grants allow researchers to begin testing bold global health and development projects that could transform the lives of those most in need. Included in today’s announcement is a group of grantees working to develop “Labor Saving Innovations for Women Smallholder Farmers” to find holistic solutions that will boost productivity of smallholder farmers, including:

  • Solar-powered Grain Drier:  Vaibhav Tidke of Institute of Chemical Technology in India will work to develop a mobile, solar-powered grain drier that would double the storage life of harvested crops to reduce spoilage and significantly reduce the time women spend working in the fields.
  • Multi-crop Thresher: Jodie Wu, D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellow and CEO of Global Cycle Solutions in Tanzania, is working to develop a multi-crop thresher that would enable smallholder farmers to thresh crops in a fast and affordable way, saving hours of manual labor.  The thresher works without electricity and allows smallholder farmers to significantly reduce harvest loss.
  • Drip Irrigation Tubes from Recycled Bags: Dr. Joseph Parse of Synovision Solutions in the United States will develop equipment to recycle plastic shopping bags into drip irrigation tubing for smallholder farmers in developing countries.  The design of the manually powered equipment will allow the tubing to be produced in developing countries by relatively low-tech facilities.

“The impressive concepts from around the world that are part of the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative are pushing the envelope when it comes to innovation to tackle ongoing challenges for the poor using approaches ranging from agricultural development to communications for social good,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery &Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We expect this increasing diversity of novel approaches to foster interventions that will save and improve lives.”

In partnership with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, a second round of grantees will be funded for research focused on the “Aid is Working. Tell the World” topic. The goal of this topic is to identify revolutionary approaches to communications that could motivate the public in wealthy countries of the world to support foreign aid investments. Projects include:

  • BeHere-BeThere Project: Christoph Nann of Serviceplan in Germany will test a simple method for raising awareness of development projects in developing countries using location-based network applications such as Foursquare, in collaboration with local retail partners, to connect consumers to projects.
  • Mobileizing the Unheard Voices of Aid Recipients: Arjun Venkatraman of Environics Trust in India and colleagues will use an Interactive Voice Response system to collect 10,000 personal narratives of the impact of aid programs in rural India and share them through social media channels.
  • Hactivating Development Aid: Charlotte Obidairo and team from Coxswain Social Investment plus in Tunisia will develop a crowdsourcing program that engages young people around the world to learn about global development challenges through first-person narratives, and offer solutions to real-life challenges identified by their peers

Following promising results from initial GCE grants made earlier, four projects were awarded additional funding. These projects take a variety of approaches that could contribute improved health and development including:

  • Vaginal Gel to Inhibit Sperm Mobility: David Clapham of Boston Children’s Hospital in the United States will develop and test a nanoparticle contraceptive that releases sperm tail inhibitors that could be incorporated into a vaginal gel as a low-cost contraceptive.
  • Acoustical Newborn Diagnosis Tool:  Chakib Tadj of École de Technologie Supérieure in Canada will design a software-based diagnostic tool using acoustical analysis of newborn cries to detect serious medical conditions such as heart defects and infections.
  • Heat Stable Vaccines: Fasséli Coulibaly of Monash University in Australia will design a vaccine platform based on protein crystals (MicroCubes) produced by insect viruses to produce new and more potent vaccines with increased heat stability, reducing the need for refrigerated storage.
  • Blood Protein Test for Preeclampsia:  Guiying Nie and colleagues of Prince Henry’s Institute of Medical Research in Australia will test the utility of measuring blood proteins for the early diagnosis of preeclampsia, which is a serious disorder of human pregnancy. Early diagnosis would help guide interventions to avoid premature delivery and associated risks.

A full list of GCE projects and grant recipients can be found here. Applications for the next round of Grand Challenges Explorations will be accepted beginning in September 2013. For email updates with the latest grant opportunities for Grand Challenges in Global Health and for Grand Challenges Explorations, sign-up here

About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, more than 850 projects in more than 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with a two-page online application and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.


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