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SRI International Receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Innovative Global Health Research
Date:5/13/2010

MENLO PARK, Calif., May 13 /PRNewswire/ -- SRI International announced today that it has received a US$100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by Douglas Watson, Ph.D., protein biochemist in SRI's Center for Advanced Drug Research (CADRE), titled "Vitamin A-Secreting Probiotics to Activate Mucosal Immunity."

Watson's project is one of 78 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the fourth funding round of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help scientists around the world explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve health in developing countries. The grants were provided to scientists in 18 countries on six continents.

To receive funding, Watson showed in a two-page application how his idea falls outside current scientific paradigms and might lead to significant advances in global health. The initiative is highly competitive, receiving almost 2,700 proposals in this round.

Through metabolic engineering, SRI researchers are developing therapies to address diarrheal diseases, which lead annually to as many as 5 million childhood deaths. In areas such as sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, severe vitamin A deficiency contributes to poor gut mucosal immunity, which increases susceptibility to acute and chronic diarrhea. Vitamin A supplementation can reduce childhood mortality by 30 percent; however, studies have shown that fewer than 60 percent of children in affected areas receive the recommended dose.

To facilitate delivery of vitamin A to children who may not otherwise receive enough of it, SRI researchers will plan to engineer a probiotic bacterium that produces vitamin A for direct delivery to mucosal immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract. If successful, this therapy could restore protective mucosal immunity while simultaneously combating other consequences of vitamin A deficiency, including blindness and susceptibility to measles and malaria. The new therapy, which should reduce the duration of symptoms while also reducing the impact of future infections, could be developed for distribution during clinic visits for the treatment of diarrhea.

"Creative new approaches are urgently needed to combat many global health issues, including deadly diarrheal diseases," said Krishna Kodukula, Ph.D., executive director of SRI's Center for Advanced Drug Research.  "We are hopeful that our idea to use metabolically engineered probiotics will lead to a treatment that will also restore the body's immunity and combat the consequences of vitamin A deficiency. Approaches such as these may also be useful for the development of new remedies against other diarrheal diseases."

"The winners of these grants show the bold thinking we need to tackle some of the world's greatest health challenges," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program.  "I'm excited about their ideas and look forward to seeing some of these exploratory projects turn into life-saving breakthroughs."

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a five-year, $100 million initiative of the Gates Foundation to promote innovation in global health.  The program 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 current round of Grand Challenges Explorations are being accepted through May 19, 2010.  Grant application instructions, including the list of topics for which proposals are currently being accepted, are available at http://www.grandchallenges.org/explorations.

About SRI's Biosciences Division

SRI's Biosciences Division conducts basic research, drug discovery, and drug development, and provides contract services. SRI has all of the resources necessary to take R&D from idea to IND® - from initial discovery to the start of human clinical trials - and specializes in cancer, immunology and inflammation, infectious disease, and neuroscience. SRI's product pipeline has yielded marketed drugs, therapeutics currently in clinical trials, and additional programs in earlier stages. In its CRO business, SRI has helped government and other clients and partners advance well over 100 drugs into patient testing. SRI is also working to create the next generation of technologies in areas such as diagnostics, drug delivery, medical devices, and systems biology.

About SRI International

Silicon Valley-based SRI International is one of the world's leading independent research and technology development organizations. SRI, which was founded by Stanford University as Stanford Research Institute in 1946 and became independent in 1970, has been meeting the strategic needs of clients and partners for more than 60 years. Perhaps best known for its invention of the computer mouse and interactive computing, SRI has also been responsible for major advances in networking and communications, robotics, drug discovery and development, advanced materials, atmospheric research, education research, economic development, national security, and more. The nonprofit institute performs sponsored research and development for government agencies, businesses, and foundations. SRI also licenses its technologies, forms strategic alliances, and creates spin-off companies. In 2009, SRI's consolidated revenues, including its wholly owned for-profit subsidiary, Sarnoff Corporation, were approximately $470 million.


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