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Gates Funding Biomarker, 'Omics for Global Development

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting genomics and biomarker research through its Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative aimed at pursuing its core missions of improving human health and development around the world.

Under one new program, the foundation plans to award up to $9 million to support new research to discover biomarkers in the human gut that may be used in managing infant health.

The foundation also has awarded a new round of more than 100 Grand Challenge grants, which provides $100,000 each and includes nine grants involving 'omics-based approaches to global health and disease problems.

Two of the focal areas of this program include funding science that seeks to prevent preterm birth and discover new ways to identify or develop effective and affordable interventions for ensuring and promoting healthy growth.

"There is a vital need for new and creative ideas to help mothers and children in the world’s poorest countries,” Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery at the foundation, said in a statement. “We urge scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs to seize the opportunity to contribute to the field of family health through the discovery and development of medicines, medical devices, diagnostics and other lifesaving tools.”

Through the $9 million "Biomarkers of Gut Function and Health" program, the foundation will award up to $9 million to researchers developing non-invasive measures of intestinal functioning for assessing infant health and development.

The program will fund about five grants of up to around $1.5 million each to researchers seeking to identify and validate promising biomarkers that can be used to assess gut function by accurately reflecting physiological properties of the structural or functional integrity of the gut, particularly of the ileum or small bowel. The Gates Foundation wants researchers to deliver validated biomarkers that can reflect the physiological integrity of the gut of children in the developing world, which could be used to develop diagnostic tests for use in low-resource settings.

Because the program is aimed at addressing global health challenges, the foundation intends the grants to support public-private partnerships, and it expects that intellectual property rights and IP management will be important parts of the program. The foundation expects all applicants for this funding to comply with guidelines regarding IP and global access concerns.

The new Grand Challenges grants include a wide range of technologies and research approaches focused on human biology, diseases, waste management, nutrition, and other areas. They include a number of molecular biology-focused projects including $100,000 awards to:

• R. Paul Johnson at Harvard Medical School to use highly-parallel PCR analysis of latently-affected reservoirs in cells infected with HIV or SIV;
• Eugenio Montini of the San Raffaele Del Tabor Foundation in Milan to identify specific genes that HIV uses to integrate into cells and to establish latency;
• Alberto Bosque of the University of Utah to use high-throughput transcriptome analysis to identify and characterize unique biomarkers expressed on latent HIV infected memory cells in order to design new treatment strategies;
• Benjamin Yu of the University of California, San Diego to isolate and sequence RNA found in the hair of newborns to study whether specific RNA changes can be found in low-birthweight babies and could be used to discover nutritional or environmental factors that cause newborn diseases;
• Kevin Nicholas of Deakin University to identify proteins in lactating wallabies and in humans that promote gut function and stomach development in infants – the aim is to develop into a supplement for improved outcomes for preterm and low-birthweight babies;
• David Relman of Stanford University to study the compositions of intestinal microbial communities in children given the oral polio vaccine in order to identify predictors of response to the vaccine;
• Hector Morbidoni of the National University of Rosario in Argentina to develop an isothermal DNA amplification process and a biosensor for detecting bacterial pathogens.

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