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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Funds Bold Ideas Including Empty Virus Shells to Improve Polio Immunity, Dirt-Charged Cell Phones, and Fertilizer Pellets that Reduce Health Risks

SEATTLE, April 28, 2011 /PRNewswire/ --The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced 88 new winners of US$100,000 each to support innovative research that has the potential to dramatically improve lives in some of the world's poorest countries. The funding, made possible through the Grand Challenges Exploration (GCE) program, will enable researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent health and development challenges.

"One bold idea is all it takes to catalyze new approaches to global health and development," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of Global Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  "Despite the progress in global health and development, we vitally need creative ideas to discover and deliver life-saving vaccines, eradicate the next disease or slow the spread of preventable diseases," he continued.

GCE asked researchers to tackle problems such as speeding progress toward assuring polio eradication; leveraging cell phones for global health solutions to improve access to life-saving vaccines; using new technologies to improve maternal and newborn health; finding ways to eliminate all reservoirs of HIV from a patient; and, creating next generation sanitation technologies to help reduce the burden of diarrheal disease.

"GCE winners are expanding the pipeline of ideas to address serious global health and development challenges where creative thinking is most urgently needed.  This effort is critical if we are to spur on new discoveries that ultimately could save millions more lives," said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  

Winners were selected from over 2,500 proposals and approximately 100 countries. They represent a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines, including health researchers, computer and electronic engineers, and entrepreneurs.  Research areas for Round 6 of GCE included:  

  • The Poliovirus Endgame: Creating Ways to Accelerate, Sustain and Monitor Eradication
  • Creating the Next Generation of Sanitation Technologies
  • Designing New Approaches to Cure HIV Infection
  • Creating Low-Cost Cell Phone-Based Applications for Priority Global Health Conditions
  • Creating New Technologies to Improve the Health of Mothers and Newborns.  

GCE continues its search for innovative ideas from all over the world, using a quick and easy grant-making selection process. Applications for the next round are being accepted through May 19, 2011. Click here for Round 7 topics and application instructions.

Winning Round 6 research proposals include:

Strategies to accelerate the end of polio and sustain eradication:

  • James Flanegan of the University of Florida, U.S., will explore developing a poliovirus vaccine composed of virus capsids – the protein shell of the virus – that look like the virus but are not infectious.
  • Simon Carding of the University of East Anglia, UK, will test whether live gut bacteria can generate immunity by delivering poliovirus antigens to the intestinal mucosa.
  • Jacob John of Christian Medical College in India will study the effect of inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) on gut immunity in Indian children previously given the oral polio vaccine (OPV). Boosting immunity with IPV could result in strategies for accelerating polio eradication. 

New life-saving vaccines and other tools:

  • Erez Lieberman-Aiden and his team at Harvard University, U.S., propose to develop a low-cost microbial fuel cell (MFC) from naturally occurring soil microbes which could be used to recharge a cell phone. These fuel cells do not require any sophisticated materials to build, and can be easily assembled using locally available materials.
  • Marc-Andre Langlois of the University of Ottawa, Canada, will develop small molecules that combine together to form a toxic compound that specifically eliminates only HIV-infected cells. If successful, it could lead to a cure for HIV.

Innovative developments for next generation sanitation technologies:

  • Guillermo Bazan of the University of California, Santa Barbara in the U.S. will explore an innovative way to break down human waste and convert the energy into electricity and heat.
  • Virginia Gardiner of Loowatt Ltd. in the United Kingdom will develop a waterless toilet that seals waste into a portable cartridge within biodegradable film, for local anaerobic digestion. The digester produces fuel and fertilizer, creating local waste treatment economies.
  • Olufunke Cofie of the International Water Management Institute in Ghana will develop fertilizer pellets made from treated human waste for market sale to increase agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa and reduce health risks from untreated waste. 

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, Grand Challenge Explorations grants have already been awarded to nearly 500 researchers from over 40 countries.  The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization.  The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required.  Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded twice a year.  Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

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 Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Learn more at  

For high-resolution still photography and information about the foundation's work, please visit:

SOURCE Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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