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Female Condoms, Cows that Smell Like Humans, and Touch-Screen Patient Feedback Tools Among New Gates-Funded Projects

The Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative rewards bold ideas to tackle global health and development challenges

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

SEATTLE (June 3, 2014) – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced funding for 55 projects from 12 countries 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.

Today’s announcement includes 52 Phase I grants of $100,000 to help innovative thinkers advance bold ideas designed to address important health and development challenges and includes: 

  • Novel female and male condom designs to improve user experience. When used consistently and correctly, condoms are more than 98 percent effective in preventing unintended pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections. The foundation is providing support to eleven novel condom designs that could help increase condom use by improving sexual sensation and other aspects of user experience including:
    • Mache Seibel is working with a team from HealthRock in the United States to develop an air-infused female condom that could be faster and easier to insert, helping women negotiate safer sex with their partners.
    • Robert Gorkin of the University of Wollongong in Australia also will receive funding to develop safe and effective male condoms from latex alternatives that could increase sensation. Condoms made from hydrogels could potentially be more satisfying while delivering built-in lubrication.
  • Real-time customer feedback that can help health centers improve their performance. How did we do today?: Since people’s decisions to accept health care is influenced by their experience with their health provider, Heidi Larson at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom will use a simple touch screen patient feedback system to capture patients’ sentiments and give quick feedback to the provider to improve reproductive health services in Kenya.  
  • Human-scented cows that can divert biting insects away from people. Human-scented “Trojan cows”: Agenor Mafra-Neto of ISCA Technologies in the United States created “cologne” that would alter the scent of livestock to mimic humans. This project will work to divert disease-carrying insects like mosquitoes from people to animals that have been pre-treated to resist infection. Insects that typically target animals will be confused or repelled by the altered odors emanating from the treated animal hosts. They will seek to prove that both human and animal insect-vector cycles of disease are irreversibly disrupted.

“The Gates Foundation is always looking for new ways to foster and accelerate innovative ideas that can improve, and even save, people’s lives,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery & Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We are continually impressed by the talented people who are drawn to the Grand Challenges Explorations program with exciting ideas that can help address issues of great importance to women and children.”

Three projects were awarded additional funding following progress made during the first phase of the GCE grant, totaling $2.3 million. These projects include two to improve the vaccine cold chain:

  • During Phase I of their project, Nancy Muller at PATH in the United States developed a straightforward method to eliminate vaccine freezing by adding specialized material that acts as a thermal buffer between ice packs and vaccines. In Phase II, PATH will assist at least one manufacturing partner in bringing a new World Health Organization Performance, Quality, and Safety-qualified freeze-safe vaccine carrier to market.
  • In Phase I, Nithya Ramanathan at Nexleaf Analytics in the United States developed its ColdTrace remote temperature monitoring sensor, which was deployed in 17 clinics in Kenya and Haiti and proved able to provide real-time alerts that help prevent vaccine spoilage. In Phase II, Nexleaf will install ColdTrace in 500 clinics across Kenya, India, and Mozambique to show the impact of remote temperature monitoring and further develop its low-cost platform to improve cold chain infrastructure.

The third Phase II project announced today continues work to identify new inexpensive drugs that decrease brain injury in newborns whose brains have been deprived of oxygen during birth asphyxia.

  • During Phase I, Xin Wang and researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the United States evaluated the protective effects of melatonin and compounds with related activity, alone or in combination with hypothermia, on neonatal hypoxic-ischemic brain injury. In Phase II, they will study the reason for the protective effect, and evaluate biomarkers that could be used to optimize prevention and treatment strategies.

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 in September 2014. 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$150 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, more than 1000 projects in 59 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 Dr. Susan (Sue) Desmond-Hellmann and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

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