Gates Foundation invests in 104 unconventional approaches to solving
global health problems
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded 104 grants to explore
bold and largely unproven ways to improve global health. The grants of
US$100,000 each, announced in Bangkok this week, will be made to
scientists from 22 countries and five continents. They mark the first
round of funding from Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to
help lower the barriers for testing innovative ideas in global health.
The initial set of grants will inject fresh perspective into research
for preventing or curing infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB,
and limiting the emergence of drug resistance. Successful applicants
showed how their project falls outside current scientific paradigms and
could lead to significant advances if successful — in just two pages.
"We were hoping this program would level the playing field so anyone
with a transformational idea could more quickly assess its potential for
the benefit of global health," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of
global health at the Gates Foundation, who announced the grants at the
fourth annual meeting of the Grand Challenges in Global Health
initiative in Bangkok. "The quality of the applications exceeded all of
our expectations. It was so hard for reviewers to champion just one
great idea that we selected almost twice as many projects for funding as
we had initially planned."
One hundred and four grants were selected from nearly 4,000
proposals, with the geographic distribution of applicants largely
matching the geographic distribution of awards. The applicant details
were not provided to reviewers, helping them to focus on the innovation
of the idea instead of a scientist's credentials, geographic location,
or organization's reputation.
All levels of scientists are represented, including young
investigators who never before have received a research grant, and those
who were applying experience from other fields like bioengineering.
Grants were made to universities and other nonprofit organizations,
government agencies, and six private companies.
Projects cover a wide range of innovation, including a "mosquito
flashlight" to prevent malaria transmission by disrupting wavelengths,
self-destructing TB cells, and studying anti-infective properties of the
eye to help prevent HIV/AIDS and other infectious disease. A few
examples of funded projects follow:
- Mimicking effective natural processes to limit infectious
- Pattamaporn Kittayapong at Mahidol University in Thailand
will explore new approaches for controlling dengue fever by
studying bacteria with natural abilities to limit the disease.
- Suzanne Fleiszig at the University of California, Berkeley,
in the US will focus on the natural defenses of the human eye to
discover new classes of broad-spectrum anti-microbial agents.
- Elizabeth Sockett at the University of Nottingham in the UK
will study whether the best medicine against some
disease-causing bacteria may be a "living antibiotic" made up of
microorganisms that naturally prey on harmful ones.
- Engineering ways to enhance the natural human immune system:
- Leonard Damelin at the National Health Laboratory Service in
South Africa will attempt to improve bacteria that naturally
line the walls of the vagina and cervix in order to enhance
their ability to fight infections.
- Yen Wah Tong at the National University of Singapore will
attempt to create nanoparticles to "soak up" viruses circulating
in the body; the particles will be imprinted with the viruses in
order to mimic the three-dimensional structure of cells that the
virus normally tries to infect.
- Jord Stam at Utrecht University in the Netherlands will
attempt to create "two-sided" antibodies to fight HIV; one side
would attach to HIV, and the other side would safely deposit the
virus in cells in which it cannot replicate.
- Sanah Jowhari at TheraCarb, a biotechnology company in
Canada, will apply technology to capture and remove the cholera
toxin from the body of a host, and validate an approach to
developing an effective drug candidate for cholera.
- Probing unexpected results for global health:
- Elijah Songok at the Kenya Medical Research Institute will
explore whether natural resistance to HIV may be linked to
genetic markers for type 2 diabetes.
- Huan Nguyen at the International Vaccine Institute in Korea
will follow up on the unexpected finding that a fluorescent
green protein originally intended as a research control could be
the basis of a highly effective influenza vaccine.
- Exploring hypotheses that challenge conventional wisdom:
- Mike McCune at the University of California, San Francisco,
in the US suggests that the best immune response to HIV may be
no response at all, because the immune cells that are marshaled
to fight the virus are the same cells that HIV infects.
- Hiroyuki Matsuoka at Jichi Medical University in Japan
thinks it may be possible to turn mosquitoes that normally
transmit disease into "flying syringes," so that when they bite
humans they deliver vaccines.
A complete list of the funded projects is available at
About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a five-year, $100 million initiative
to promote innovation in global health. It is part of the Grand
Challenges in Global Health initiative, which is supported by the Gates
Foundation to achieve major breakthroughs in global health.
The Explorations initiative uses an agile, streamlined grant process.
Applications are limited to two pages, and preliminary data are not
required. Proposals are reviewed and selected by a committee of
foundation staff and external experts, and grant decisions are made
within approximately three months of the close of the funding round.
Applications for the second round of Grand Challenges Explorations
are being accepted through November 2, 2008, and topics for the third
round will be announced in early 2009.
Grant application instructions, including the list of topic areas in
which proposals are currently being accepted, are available at
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