The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations program announced last week that it awarded $100,000 grants to each of 81 scientific teams that had submitted unconventional, almost whacky-sounding ideas to improve health in developing countries.
Many wondered whether the program’s second round could generate the same creative idea-flow that characterized its first round, in which 104 scientists were funded last October including one fellow who plans to recruit mosquitoes into an air force of flying syringes that deliver vaccines rather than diseases.
It turned out to be no problem.
The program funded scientists from 17 countries whose ideas focused primarily on infectious disease treatment and prevention.
“Grand Challenges Explorations is our way to help inspire the bold ideas that could one day help transform global health,” said Tachi Yamada, president of the Foundation’s Global Health Program.
Among the compelling projects, Boitumelo Semete at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa will attempt to develop “sticky” nanoparticles that attach to tuberculosis-infected cells and slowly release anti-TB drugs.
Eric Lam at Rutgers will try to develop a tomato laced with antiviral drugs.
Thomas Baker at Penn State will try to infect malaria-carrying mosquitoes with a fungus that essentially gives them a head cold which, hopefully, suppresses their sense of smell and hence their ability to find human prey.
The winners were selected from more than 3,000 applicants.
The grantees are based at universities, research institutes, nonprofit organizations, and private companies in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and North America.
Applications for the next round of Grand Challenges Explorations are being accepted through May 28, 2009.