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McGill awarded $1-million grant to address debilitating parasitic diseases in the developing world

This release is available in French.

McGill University and McGill University scientist Dr. Timothy Geary received a $1-million grant today for landmark research into addressing parasitic diseases through medicines derived from African biodiversity. Grand Challenges Canada, Canada's International Development Research Centre, The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have joined together to support this important research which provides a significant Canadian contribution to a serious global health issue.

More than 1 billion people, or one-sixth of the world's population, suffer from Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), which cause disfigurement, disability and even death in the developing world. Dr. Geary's research focuses on parasitic worms, or helminths, which live inside the body. Diseases such as hookworm, river blindness and elephantiasis cause stunted growth and cognitive impairment in children, horrific debilitating and disfiguring symptoms in adults, and make escaping the cycle of poverty virtually impossible.

"While there have been advances in the past few years in providing drugs to control the disease, there is so much more that can be done to eliminate NTDs and bring hope to many for a better future," said Dr. Geary, Director of the Institute of Parasitology at McGill. "The drugs we plan to develop through this research will combat growing resistance to existing therapies, an important next step in the treatment and control of parasitic disease."

Dr. Geary's breakthrough research, conducted in partnership with Dr. Eliane Ubalijoro of the Institute for the Study of International Development at McGill, focuses on identifying compounds from African botanical and microbial sources that can lead to new drugs to eliminate parasitic worms from the body. In this approach, he works in partnership with African scientists, particularly Dr. Kelly Chibale of the University of Cape Town, and Drs. Berhanu Abegaz and Kerstin Marobela of the University of Botswana, believing that partners from disease-endemic countries are critically important for finding new solutions to these infections. This team will conduct research both at McGill and in Africa.

"This is about Canadians helping Africans help themselves; an effective and long-term approach to the challenges developing countries face," said Dr. Peter A Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada. "This is a milestone celebration for Grand Challenges Canada. We are less than a year old and I am proud to say this is our first grant announcement. For us, this is like fireworks lighting up the sky on Canada Day."

"We're delighted that this first grant from Grand Challenges Canada supports a partnership between researchers in Canada and researchers in Africa, one devoted to drawing on both Canadian and African ingenuity to solve a persistent and debilitating health problem in Africa" said David Malone, President of Canada's International Development Research Centre. "

The $1-million award is collaboration among three funders: $500,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; $250,000 from Grand Challenges Canada through the Canadian government's Capital Development Innovation Fund; and $250,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

"We believe in the quality of Dr. Geary's research and the potential for a significant Canadian contribution to addressing these debilitating diseases which plague so many in the developing world," said Dr. Pierre Chartrand, Vice-President Research, Canadian Institutes of Health Research. "We have to do more than just share information across traditional political and national lines: we have to invest in the development of local response and research capacity."

Over the past five years, the world has made tremendous progress in addressing some of the greatest global health issues," said Dr. Steven Buchsbaum, Deputy Director of Discovery, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Partnerships are increasingly critical and we look forward to working with Grand Challenges Canada as we engage the best minds to harness advances in science and technology and save lives. We hope Canada's important commitment inspires others to take action.""

"We are most appreciative of this funding and the opportunity it creates for Drs. Geary and Ubalijoro and McGill to make a significant Canadian contribution to addressing these serious global health challenges," said Dr. Rose Goldstein, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) at McGill. "All Canadians should be proud of the contribution this county is making on the international stage to address these sometimes fatal ailments diseases and conditions which those of us who live in the developed world often forget are very real and terrifying risks for large numbers of people."


Contact: Vronique Perron
Canadian Institutes of Health Research

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