Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation inaugurated its Grand Challenges Exploration–a five-year, $100 million program to encourage path-breaking research that’s ordinarily too visionary to attract big-time investment. Yesterday, the foundation announced its second round of $100,000 grants, which were awarded to 81 groups in 17 countries. Here’s a sampling of the winners:
New tools to diagnose and treat diseases:
– Luke Savage and Dave Newman of the University of Exeter in the U.K. will attempt to build an inexpensive, battery-powered instrument to diagnose malaria by using magnets to detect the waste products of the malaria parasite in human blood samples.
– Boitumelo Semete at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa will attempt to develop “sticky nanoparticles” that attach to tuberculosis-infected cells and slowly release anti-TB drugs. The new therapy could shorten treatment time and reduce side effects, using existing medications.
– Eric Lam at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in the U.S. will work to develop a tomato that delivers antiviral drugs when eaten.
– Erich Cerny of Wissenschaftlicher Fonds Onkologie in Switzerland, along with his brother Thomas, will test whether inducing antibodies against anti-malarial drugs can significantly prolong the half-life of those drugs in the body, extending their effects.
Creative ways to prevent mosquitoes from infecting humans:
-Fredros Okumu of Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania will attempt to design a network of outdoor mosquito traps to help reduce malaria transmission in rural areas.
– Thomas Baker at Pennsylvania State University in the U.S. will examine the potential to infect malaria-carrying mosquitoes with a fungus that–like a head cold–suppresses their sense of smell and their ability to find human hosts.
– Jefferson Vaughan at the University of North Dakota in the U.S. seeks to immunize cattle against mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that bite an immunized cow might then die or have reduced ability to reproduce.
More efficient and effective vaccines:
– Lucia Lopalco of the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Italy will seek ways to generate “self-targeting antibodies” that attack a receptor protein on human immune cells – potentially blocking the HIV virus from entering cells and preventing HIV infection.
– Fasséli Coulibaly at Monash University in Australia will test whether protein crystals produced by insect viruses can be used as a new way to deliver vaccines. These “MicroCube” protein particles are stable, could be used against multiple diseases, and may not require refrigeration.
– Mei Wu at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the U.S. will explore whether illuminating skin with a targeted laser before administering a vaccine can enhance immune response.
Inspiring stuff. The grants fall under 14 grand challenges, related to seven different goals. Here’s a video of Bill Gates, describing how he transformed himself into perhaps the world’s most visionary philanthropist. Above: Video of his infamous presentation at TED, where he (supposedly) released a jar full of mosquitos, to snap the audience to attention.