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Updated 10:00 AM July 11, 2005
 

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  Initiative fights disease in poorest countries
U-M project one of 43 funded by Gates Foundation

The Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences
(M-NIMBS) is one of 43 institutions—and one of only two in the Midwest—to receive a Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative grant funded largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The initiative seeks to achieve scientific breakthroughs against a number of diseases that kill millions of people each year in the world's poorest countries. The fund is supported by commitments of $450 million from the Gates Foundation, $27.1 million from the Wellcome Trust and $4.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

The 43 grants announced June 27 total $436.6 million and were awarded for a broad range of innovative research projects involving scientists in 33 countries.

The $6.3-million Grand Challenges grant to M-NIMBS will support development and testing of a nanoemulsion-based vaccine delivery system that uses a simple nasal swab rather than an injection. The heat-stable system eliminates the need for vaccine refrigeration, which often is unavailable in developing countries.

"We believe this nanotechnology-based approach can revolutionize how vaccines are delivered and will be an important advance in the prevention of infectious diseases in developing countries," said Dr. James R. Baker, Jr., director of M-NIMBS and the study's lead investigator. "Nanoscale materials can penetrate the epidermis and mucosa, eliminating the need for needles and other injectable delivery systems."

Following tests for safety and efficacy in mice and primates, a human clinical trial of the nanoemulsion with hepatitis B vaccine will be conducted in Africa.

The ultimate goal of the global health initiative is to create tools that are effective, inexpensive to produce, easy to distribute and simple to use. Of the billions spent each year on research into life-saving medicines, only a small fraction is focused on discovering and developing new tools to fight the diseases that cause millions of deaths each year in developing countries.

"It's shocking how little research is directed toward the diseases of the world's poorest countries," said Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "By harnessing the world's capacity for scientific innovation, I believe we can transform health in the developing world and save millions of lives."

Each of the funded projects seeks to tackle one of 14 major scientific challenges that, if solved, could lead to important advances in preventing, treating and curing diseases of the developing world. The challenges, which were identified from more than 1,000 suggestions from scientists and health experts around the world, address the following goals:

• Developing improved childhood vaccines that do not require refrigeration, needles or multiple doses in an effort to improve immunization rates in developing countries where each year 27 million children do not receive basic immunizations;

• Studying the immune system to guide the development of new vaccines to prevent malaria, tuberculosis and HIV, which together kill more than 5 million people each year;

• Developing new ways to prevent insects from transmitting diseases such as malaria, which infects 350-500 million people every year;

• Growing more nutritious staple crops to combat malnutrition, which affects more than 2 billion people worldwide;

• Discovering ways to prevent drug resistance;

• Discovering methods to treat latent and chronic infections such as tuberculosis, which nearly a third of the world's population harbors in their bodies; and

• More accurately diagnosing and tracking diseases in poor countries that do not have sophisticated laboratories or reliable medical recordkeeping systems.

The Grand Challenges initiative was launched by the Gates Foundation in 2003 in partnership with the National Institutes of Health. More than 1,500 research projects were proposed by scientists in 75 countries.

"We were overwhelmed by the scientific community's response to the Grand Challenges. Clearly, there's tremendous untapped potential among the world's scientists to address diseases of the developing world," said Nobel laureate Dr. Harold Varmus, chair of the international scientific board that guides the Grand Challenges initiative.

The initiative is managed by global health experts at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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