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Gates Foundation, Canada Provide $31.5M for Point-of-Care Dx Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada have pumped $31.5 million into new research projects to develop point-of-care technologies, including PCR and microfluidics-based tools for diagnosing diseases, the Gates Foundation said yesterday.

In this round of the Grand Challenges in Global Health program's funding, the Point-of-Care Diagnostics Initiative (POC Dx), the Gates Foundation has provided $21.1 million and Grand Challenges Canada has supplied C$10.8 million ($10.4 million).

The program seeks to spur development of new diagnostic tests that are "robust, inexpensive, and simple to use" for healthcare workers in developing countries and in remote and impoverished settings.

"New and improved diagnostics to use at the point-of-care can help health workers around the world save countless lives," Chris Wilson, Director of Global Health Discovery at the Gates Foundation, said in a statement. "Our hope is that these bold ideas lead to affordable, easy-to-use tools that can rapidly diagnose diseases, trigger timelier treatment and thereby reduce death, disability, and transmission of infections in resource-poor communities."

The new POC Dx grants include awards to:

• The California Institute of Technology and collaborators at Dartmouth University to develop a rugged quantitative PCR amplification/detection component module that can detect a wide range of pathogens at low cost and with limited complexity and power usage;

• Mesa Tech International of Santa Fe to develop nucleic acid purification systems that use a novel configuration of lateral flow materials to bind and wash nucleic acids to yield amplification-ready samples, and could provide purified samples within minutes;

• Cornell University to develop a self-amplifying DNA polymer system in which monomers bind to specific pathogen biomarkers and create polymer aggregates when exposed to light. This amplification step would be used as a component for future diagnostic devices and would be completely enzyme free and would only occur in the presence of specific pathogens;

• AM Biotechnologies to develop X-aptamers, modified nucleic acids that bind to specific targets, for detecting and quantifying protein biomarkers for neglected diseases and to be integrated into a POC platform for diagnosing many diseases;

• The University of Texas at Austin to improve enzyme-free DNA circuits that could be used to create multi-layered circuits for amplifying signal inputs in POC diagnostics;

• Ohio State University to develop isothermal amplification of nucleic acids using a fluorescence detection method;

• Ustar Biotechnologies of Hangzhou, China to develop nucleic acid extraction devices and an affordable and rapid isothermal nucleic acid assay that can be performed with minimal training;

• Bigtec Labs of Bangalore, India to create a low-cost automated sample preparation system that can be interfaced with nucleic acid detection techniques and will involve the creation of a device to extract pathogenic DNA/RNA from biological samples such as blood, sputum, urine, and nasal/throat swabs.

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