The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding 76 projects using innovative ideas from chewing gum to chocolate to improve global health, and that of developing countries in particular, to the tune of 100,000 US dollars each.

The grants will support projects in various countries where researchers are developing new and bold ideas like using chewing gum to detect biomarkers of malaria in saliva, or using chocolate to prevent malaria, or an electronic nose to diagnose tuberculosis.

The announcement was made on Tuesday in Arusha, Tanzania, where scientists from across Africa and Europe attended the fifth annual Grand Challenges Exploration event.

Dr Tadataka “Tachi” Yamada, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, and former member of the board of GlaxoSmithKline, told the media that:

“Some of the biggest stumbling blocks in global health are now being overcome with promising new vaccines and treatments.”

“Grand Challenges Explorations will continue to fill the pipeline with possibilities and hopefully produce a breakthrough idea that could save untold numbers of lives,” he added.

Grand Challenges Explorations is a 5-year, 100-million dollar program within the Gates Foundation-funded Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative that seeks to achieve major breakthroughs in global health.

Grand Challenges Explorations are already sponsoring 262 researchers from 30 countries to find new ways to tackle global health problems such as a paper cup that turns orange when someone with TB spits into it, or a peptide carried by scorpions that could block the development of the malaria parasite.

In this round, scientists ranging from new post-graduates to veteran researchers from fields as diverse as chemistry, bioengineering, electronics, infectious diseases, epidemiology and mechanical engineering submitted nearly 3,000 proposals covering a wide range of novel ideas, including:

  • Chewing gum that detects malarial biomarkers in saliva (Andrew Fung of University of California, Los Angeles).
  • Handheld “electronic nose” to diagnose TB from breath samples (Ranjan Nanda of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology in India).
  • Mobile phones and mp3 players equipped to record cough and sleep sounds to help diagnose pneumonia (Udantha Abeyratne of the University of Queensland in Australia).
  • Chocolate compound that protects against malaria (Steven Maranz of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York).
  • Sun-activate micropellets of food that kill mosquito larvae (Annette Habluetzel of the University of Camerino in Italy).
  • Intranasal vaccine for mothers that triggers antibodies in breast milk to pass on immunity to babies (Margaret Njoroge of Med Biotech Laboratories in Uganda).

Grand Challenges Explorations are currently accepting applications for the next round of grants until 2nd November.

Anyone can apply, from any discipline, be it student or tenured professor, and from any organization, eg colleges, universities, government labs, research institutions, non-profit organizations and for-profit companies.

— Grand Challenges Explorations

Source: Gates Foundation.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD