Great Ideas from Unexpected Places

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Funding bold ideas

Great Ideas from Unexpected Places

I have always been interested in the scientific discoveries underlying health advances in developing countries. The benefits of such breakthroughs are substantial, with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives. And the challenges are great, often involving issues that no one has been able to solve before.

Two years ago, the foundation launched Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE), which is aimed at encouraging researchers with promising and sometimes unconventional ideas for improving health to apply for $100,000 grants. That may not seem like a lot of money for scientific research. But by funding a larger number of smaller grants and encouraging applications from a wider range of individuals—including those with little or no experience—Grand Challenges Explorations can fund initial research into potentially innovative concepts that might not otherwise ever be explored.

This week, Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the foundation’s Global Health Program, announced the first round of next-stage grants to nine previous GCE grantees. This funding—up to $1 million per grantee—will allow projects that have shown outstanding progress and great promise to move forward.

For example, Dr. Mark Davis, professor and director of the Stanford Institute for Immunology, Transplantation and Infection, is working on a new technique to measure vaccine efficacy, a tool that could shorten the time required to test new vaccine candidates. Dr. Pradip Rathod, a professor of chemistry at the University of Washington, is trying to develop a mechanism that could help prevent drug resistance from developing during malaria treatment. Dr. Dan Feldheim, professor at the University of Colorado is exploring how gold crystals could be tailored to block many viral and bacterial drug resistance mechanisms. And Dr. Szabolcs Marka, an experimental astrophysicist at Columbia University who specializes in gravitational waves, is applying his expertise to malaria prevention. He’s working on a device that will use light fields to create barriers to deter mosquitoes from humans and prevent malaria transmission.

I had a chance to meet these researchers and other GCE grantees this week and I found their passion and creativity inspiring. Some, perhaps many, of these ideas may not pan out. But if even one of these projects is successful, it will have been well worth the investment.


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