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Pen Pals, Glowing Parasites & Crop Camouflage Could Help Improve Lives
Date:11/1/2012

SEATTLE, Nov. 1, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced more than $21 million US in new grants through its Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative. GCE is a tiered granting mechanism that funds innovative ideas to tackle key global health and development problems, and provides additional resources for projects that demonstrate initial promise. Included in today's announcement is the first group of grantees who were selected, in partnership with Cannes Lions, to identify new ways to communicate that foreign aid is working. Also new to this round are projects working to develop new anti-malarial drugs thanks to unprecedented access to 400 compounds in the "Malaria Box." 

Following promising results from initial GCE grants made earlier, 15 projects were awarded additional funding. A suite of Phase II projects take a variety of approaches that could contribute to the goal of malaria eradication, including:

  • Filippo Mancia of Columbia University in the United States will examine the molecular details of how malaria-transmitting mosquitoes use their sense of smell to find humans, a first step in designing better insect repellents.
  • Ali Salanti of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark will develop and test a combined malaria vaccine candidate with the cervical cancer vaccine that has the potential of protecting against both diseases simultaneously.
  • Mark Mescher, Consuelo De Moraes, and Andrew Read of Pennsylvania State University in the United States are identifying and studying characteristic odors associated with malaria infection that could be developed into a simple diagnostic test.

Other projects funded in this second phase range from diagnostic tools to vaccines, and include:

  • Michelle McIntosh of Monash University in Australia will test a dry powder formulation of the drug oxytocin, which is used to treat post-partum bleeding, in an inexpensive, inhalable format that would not require refrigeration and be suitable for use in remote areas.

"Investments in innovative global health research are already paying off," said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We continue to be impressed by the novelty and innovative spirit of Grand Challenges Explorations projects and are enthusiastic about this exciting research. These investments hold real potential to yield new solutions to improve the health of millions of people in the developing world, and ensure that everyone has the chance to live a healthy productive life."

Ninety-four projects representing 19 countries were funded at the Phase I level. These grants allow researchers to begin testing bold ideas for global health and development that could transform the lives of those most in need, including:

  • International Pen Pals - Michael Harrison of Deep International Ltd. in Cyprus will develop an online tool that connects children from developing countries with children in the developed world who share a birthday to share personal stories about how development aid is making a difference.
  • Parasites that Glow - Using the anti-malarial compounds from the Malaria Box, Koen Dechering of TropIQ Health Sciences in the Netherlands proposes to develop a high-throughput assay using parasites that emit light as they develop in mosquitos' stomachs to allow easy identification of compounds that block malaria transmission.
  • Crop Camouflage - James Rogers of aPEEL Technology in the United States will develop a molecular camouflage that uses natural plant extracts to create an ultrathin barrier that is applied to crops. This can protect crops from bacteria, fungi, and insects; reduce crop destruction; and possibly extend the foods' shelf life without refrigeration.
  • Vaccine Monitors - Noor Sabah Rakhshani of the Trust for Vaccines and Immunization in Pakistan will develop children's ankle bands that change color when children are due for their next vaccination.

Thanks to the Medicines for Malaria Venture's  "Malaria Box" with compounds from the chemical libraries of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Novartis, and GlaxoSmithKline, researchers have new access to a wealth of chemo-biological information as a starting point for the development of next generation anti-malarial drugs essential for achieving the goal of malaria eradication. Grantees working on the "Aid is Working. Tell the World" topic will have unprecedented access to communications experts at Cannes Chimera to develop their ideas and put them into action. A full list of Phase I and Phase II GCE projects and grant recipients can be found here.

Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10, are being accepted through November 7, 2012 on the following topics:

About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 800 projects in almost 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with a two-page online application and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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.


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