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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced more than 100 winners of its Grand Challenges Explorations initiative, an effort whereby the foundation provides $100,000 grants to solving global health problems.

Obviously, there are some big problems facing the planet, from lack of drinking water to airborne diseases to the methods by which immunizations are administered. And it’s going to take some creative ideas to solve the issues, one of the reasons that the grants are designed to support “unorthodox thinking,” says Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

So, what exactly are some of the award winners working on? Here are few that caught our eye:

Smart Bowl Conveys Cassava to Market with Pest Control: John Brassil of Functional Circulation LLC in the U.S. will augment the bowls used by women to transport cassava roots to market by incorporating pest controlling elements and passive communicating elements such as radio-frequency identification (RFID).  Pest repellant materials will be molded into the inner surface of the bowls or applied post-processing. Bowls will also be fitted with communication devices such as RFID that could be used in epidemiological and agricultural studies.

A Device for Self-Sampling of Blood for Infectious Disease: Ian Matthews of Cardiff University in the United Kingdom proposes to develop a self-sampling micro-needle patch device for the collection of small volumes of blood. Micro-needles will be fabricated using Deep Reactive Ion Etching. The device will permit non-refrigerated transport of collected blood for subsequent assays for diagnosis of infectious disease.

Low-Cost, Mobile Phone-Based Detection of Neonatal Jaundice: Chetan Patil of Vanderbilt University in the U.S. will test the ability of a mobile phone platform to perform measurements of bilirubin with sufficient sensitivity to accurately identify jaundiced newborns. By using the phone’s camera and simple applications to detect levels of bilirubin through the skin, a quantitative assessment can be made so that simple treatment can be initiated.

Vaccine in a Salt Shaker: A New, Safe, Low-Cost Approach: Shiladitya DasSarma will lead a team at the University of Maryland, Baltimore in the U.S. to develop an inexpensive, safe, and effective oral vaccine against invasive Salmonella disease using gas-filled bacterial vesicles. The project seeks to produce a salt-encased, shelf-stable vaccine requiring no refrigeration for distribution worldwide.

A Breathalyzer to Test for TB: William Royea of Next Dimensions Technology, Inc., will further develop and test a prototype  breathalyzer device to identify active tuberculosis in patients  and to distinguish between various drug-resistant strains.

Three Seattle-based researchers also won grants. Here are there projects:

Phase-Change Material Freeze Prevention Liner for Vaccines: Nancy Muller of PATH in the U.S. will develop and field test a durable liner for vaccine carriers that will be prefilled with an engineered phase-change material that responds to external temperatures by changing from liquid to solid to protect vaccines from freezing.

Use of Bar Codes for Vaccine Introductions in Poor Countries: Lauren Franzel of PATH in the U.S. will explore the use of bar code technology to improve vaccine supply and logistics management as well as strategic forecasting of vaccine supply and demand. Real-time data could ensure allocation of doses to where they are needed most, reduce wastage and inventory holding costs, and enhance capacity for strategic matching of vaccine supply and demand at a global level.

Simple and Rapid Recognition of Preterm Infants With RDS: Kathleen Bongiovanni of Seattle Children’s Hospital in the U.S. will test whether oral fluids routinely suctioned from newborns mouths immediately after delivery – instead of fluids collected by amniocentesis or aspiration – can be used in a surfactant foam stability test to diagnose lung immaturity and predict respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). The non-invasive sample collection would enable skilled birth attendants in developing countries to detect lung immaturity in premature babies and reduce RDS-associated morbidity and mortality.

You can see all of the grants in this list.


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