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Big Ideas from Grand Challenges Explorations New Wave of Awardees

June 14, 2017

The Book of Ecclesiastes says "there is nothing new under the sun". That's been pretty good wisdom for 2,500 years, but I am starting to doubt it - because of what I've seen over the nine years I've been involved with the Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) program. The point of the program is that great ideas come from anywhere, and most of them just need a little help to transition from great ideas to proven solutions. So we give $100,000 grants to people with great ideas so they can test them out and see where they lead. So far, we've funded more than 1,300 ideas, and we're proud to announce the recipients of the GCE grants for round 18. As you'll see by the ingenuity and variety of the proposals, there may indeed be something new under the sun.

For Round 18, we posed four challenges and received more than 1,000 applications.

Two of the challenges focused on family planning:

Assess Family Planning Needs, Preferences and Behaviors to Inform Innovations in Contraceptive Technologies, so researchers can learn more about why the over 200 million women in the developing world who want to space or limit their childbearing don't use modern contraceptives.

Develop Novel Platforms to Accelerate Contraceptive Drug Discovery, so pharmaceutical companies can develop contraceptives that avoid the liabilities or failings of current methods.

Design New Solutions to Data Integration for Malaria Elimination, so researchers can exchange data more quickly.

Some of the recipients include:

  • Hayley Dickinson of Monash University in Australia will evaluate the spiny mouse, the only rodent that naturally menstruates, as a new animal model for developing contraceptives with fewer side effects.
  • Maria Gallo of Ohio State University in the United States will adapt the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure the true opinions of Vietnamese women about hormonal contraceptives, which many tend not to use.
  • Randall Peterson of the University of Utah in the United States will develop a zebrafish model that glows in order to help identify male and female contraceptive drugs that could last for weeks or even months after only a single dose.
  • Aurelien Forget of the University of South Australia in Australia will develop a 3D bioprinted model of the fallopian tube to develop contraceptives that work before or after intercourse and avoid both side effects and any risk to male or female fertility.

Another challenge has to do with one of the deadliest diseases in human history:

Design New Solutions to Data Integration for Malaria Elimination, so researchers can exchange data more quickly and effectively in an increasingly interconnected world.

Some of the recipients include:

  • Helger Nakaya of the University of São Paulo in Brazil will identify hotspots for malaria transmission using the GPS data from mobile phones of patients in order to find asymptomatic cases and help elimination efforts.
  • Isabel Cruz of the University of Illinois at Chicago in the United States will develop a way to integrate data about location features like temperature, rainfall, landscape, and population distribution to predict where malaria cases are likely to increase or decrease in Zimbabwe.

Our last challenge in this round deals with what was recently discovered to be a major cause of fatal childhood diarrhea:

Accelerate Development of New Therapies for Childhood Cryptosporidium Infection, so scientists can make quick progress against a disease that hasn’t received much attention before.

Some of the recipients include:

  • Pradip Maiti of Immunimed, Inc., in Canada will use chicken eggs to produce antibodies to be administered directly to children, which works more quickly and effectively than vaccines that induce people to make their own antibodies.
  • Sumiti Vinayak of the University of Georgia in the United States will develop a tool that turns off genes using light in order to study which crypto proteins would be best for medications to target.

Most of these ideas won’t pan out. That’s designed into the program. But some of them will — and when they do, they will save and improve millions of lives. We are continually amazed by the creativity and quality of the proposals we receive, and we are proud to help brilliant people around the world turn their great ideas into proven solutions.

 
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