Back in 2008, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began an experiment in promoting early-stage, speculative research in global health and development by launching an “innovation engine” called Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE).
We do this by engaging talent from around the world and within numerous disciplines, providing seed support for novel ideas that might not otherwise receive funding from traditional sources. This month, we are excited to announce that a growing number of these innovative ideas are showing promise as future global health solutions—our experiment is working.
Fredros Okumu of Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania testing the strategic placement of outdoor decoy sites that attract and trap breeding, resting, and feeding mosquitoes for their ability to reduce malaria transmission in rural communities.
Here’s how it works. First, we fund a large number of initial one-year grants of $100,000. Researchers with demonstrated success in the first stage can apply for additional funding of up to $1 million. In the last three years, we have given $100,000 grants to nearly 500 researchers from 43 countries and have awarded numerous second-stage grants to researchers from 7 countries.
This month, we are thrilled to announce 12 new projects that have matured to second-stage grants. These grantees have demonstrated that their unusual ideas have merit and warrant further support.
These grants address a range of important problems and potential solutions. Each of these projects, if brought to fruition, would have impact, and some could be utterly transformative.
What are some of the projects that show great promise?
We’re excited about innovative treatments for infectious disease, like using microwave irradiation to selectively kill malaria parasites inside red blood cells without harming uninfected red blood cells—undertaken by Carmenza Spadafora of Panama’s Institute of Advanced Scientific Investigations and High Technology Services and José A. Stoute of Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.
Other grantees, like Shi hua Xing of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, have also devised novel prevention strategies, such as engineering gut bacteria to carry antiHIV agents that will protect the body against infection. Brendan Wren of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the UK and his team are finding new ways to improve existing tools, such as recruiting bacteria to develop pneumococcal vaccines that are more effective and less expensive.
GCE’s portfolio has also paved the way for new partnerships. Several of the second-stage grants to developing countries will be co-funded by a partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada (GCC), a not-for-profit Canadian corporation.
GCE and GCC are co-funding grants for a drug discovery consortium centered at the Universities of Botswana and Cape Town, South Africa, and headed by Timothy Geary of McGill University in Canada; and new mosquito trapping devices designed in Tanzania by Fredros Okumu of Ifakara Health Institute [see photo above].
To keep feeding our innovation engine with creative ideas, we continue to seek new applicants—especially those from developing countries whose direct experience can guide and tailor solutions to be most suitable for those most in need.
If you have a great idea for global health and development, check the GCE website for calls for proposals. Your idea may be just what we are looking for. Do you know someone who has a great idea? Let him or her know about GCE as well. GCE Round 8 will begin accepting applications on September 7, 2011.