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Family Health International Receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Innovative Global Health Research Project Led by David Sokal, M.D.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C., MAY 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Family Health 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 led by David C. Sokal, M.D., studying a novel approach to inactivate HIV with minimal interference during breastfeeding.

Dr. Sokal's project is one of 81 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the second 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 17 countries on six continents.

To receive funding, Dr. Sokal and his team showed in a two-page application how their idea falls outside current scientific paradigms and might lead to significant advances in global health. The initiative is highly competitive, receiving more than 3,000 proposals in this round.

The idea for the "Just Milk" project was born in the summer of 2008 when Dr. Sokal and a team of young engineers at an MIT workshop explored various alternatives for preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV during breastfeeding. The team focused on modifying an existing nipple shield by putting a porous felt-like material in its tip and saturating the material with a commonly used compound that can inactivate HIV without harming the child. The researchers for the project are also looking into other potential applications of the device including delivery of nutritional supplements and pediatric medicine. Carol Joanis and Mary Lynn Baniecki, Ph.D. of Family Health International have joined the initial team to work on acceptability and laboratory aspects of the project, respectively. External partners on the grant include Sandra Urdaneta Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D. at Drexel University College of Medicine and Renaissance Scientific, LLC, and Stephen Gerrard, a graduate student in chemical engineering at Cambridge University, UK. Additional background information is at the team's web site,

In leading the Just Milk team, Dr. Sokal, a scientist in Family Health International's Health and Development Sciences group, is building on past successes in developing new reproductive health technologies. Dr. Sokal has invented a device for delivery of vaginal microbicides using low-cost non-woven materials, and has obtained two patents for this novel vaginal device. He also has a patent for a new method of nonsurgical fallopian tube occlusion, and a patent pending on an innovative vasectomy device. He is also currently working on several research projects within Family Health International and with teams at the University of North Carolina on various forms of male contraception.

Al Siemens, Chief Executive Officer, Family Health International, stated, "Every year, approximately 50,000 babies are infected with HIV AIDS while trying to obtain from their mothers the natural nutrition they to need to live and thrive. With the Just Milk project, Dr. David Sokal and his team are beginning development of a device that could potentially prevent thousands of these cases of mother-to-child transmission with a simple device that is low-cost, accessible and easy to use. This research is yet another example of how Family Health International is extending its scientific leadership to offer hope for vulnerable people around the world."

"The winners of these grants are doing truly exciting and innovative work," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program. "I'm optimistic that some of these exploratory projects will lead to life-saving breakthroughs for people in the world's poorest countries."

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 next round of Grand Challenges Explorations are being accepted through May 28, 2009. Grant application instructions, including the list of topic areas in which proposals are currently being accepted, are available at the Grand Challenges Explorations website.

About Family Health International

Family Health International (FHI), a leading global health and development organization, improves the lives of the world's most vulnerable families through its unique approach of delivering sustainable programs based on scientific research. Since 1971, FHI continues to lead the global response to HIV/AIDS and is making major contributions to address reproductive health, malaria, tuberculosis, and other infectious and chronic diseases. Beyond immediate care and treatment programs, FHI engages staff scientists in research, testing, and developing new treatments to advance public health and development. FHI's community-building and service delivery model responds to the most pressing and anticipated needs in developing countries. With more than 2,300 employees working in over 55 countries, FHI is a partner of choice for funders, local governments, nongovernmental agencies, research institutions, and community-based groups. For more information, visit

    Matthew Matassa
    Family Health International

SOURCE Family Health International
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