November 7, 2008

Med School Receives Gates Grants

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded Weill Cornell Medical College two $100,000 grants as part of its Grand Challenges Explorations initiative. The five-year, $100 million initiative — which awards grants on a competitive basis — aims to foster and advance innovative solutions to complex diseases and other medical conditions.
In order to receive funding, researchers needed to submit two page proposals outlining why their project takes an unconventional or creative approach to solving medical problems.
WCMC focuses its research in areas such as stem cells, genes, infectious diseases and cancer. For the current year, the college has been awarded 1,412 grants worth $256 million collectively from federal and non-federal organizations, including the U.S. Department’s National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. Yet grants awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation seem to carry a special meaning.
“These are highly competitive and rigorously reviewed,” Harry M. Lander, associate dean for research administration at the college, explained, “The Gates Foundation grants are highly distinguished and very prestigious.”
The grants will be awarded to two major researchers within the college — Dr. Carl Nathan, chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Dr. Anne Moscona, a professor of Pediatrics.
Nathan’s project will focus on tuberculosis. Although over one-third of the world’s population lives with the bacteria that can lead to the disease, only five to 10 percent eventually contract it. He hopes to understand why certain people become infected and at what point it can be prevented.
Nathan believes he can uncover a solution to the problem by studying the genetic mechanism by which tuberculosis emerges from its latent to infectious state and then subsequently replicates.
“Understanding how the mycobacterium resumes replication will be key to reducing the prevalence of latent infection to break the cycle of TB transmission,” Nathan stated in a press release.
Moscona’s research will focus on acute respiratory infections, such as croup, bronchitis and pneumonia, which account for close to 20 percent of deaths in young children each year. Currently, there are no vaccines or antiviral drugs to combat these illnesses.
Moscona believes that she can disrupt the viruses from entering the cells by engineering “microparticles” that can be injected into the body and block the virus.block the virus.
“We expect to show that this approach will inactivate the viruses and render them non-infectious,” Moscona said in a press release.
Nathan and Moscona’s research are just two of 104 grants that the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative awarded to different research projects throughout the world. The initiative was quite impressed by the quality and variety of proposals that they received.
Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, stated on the website, “The quality of the applications exceeded all of our expectations. It was so hard for reviewers to champion just one great idea that we selected almost twice as many projects for funding as we had initially planned.”
The Grand Challenges Explorations initiative has ambitious goals to improve health and service in the medical sector and, specifically within third-world countries.
To this end, the initiative lists seven long-term goals: improving vaccines, creating new vaccines, controlling insects, improving nutrition, limiting drug resistance in the human body, curing infection and measuring the health of individuals cheaply and effectively.
Bill Gates believes that these types of initiatives that put an emphasis on solving medical problems in innovative ways are crucial to improving the world’s overall health.
“As we witness the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, we now need another worldwide call to action — to tackle scientific problems that stand in the way of new vaccines, treatments and cures for diseases that afflict the poorest of the poor,” Bill Gates wrote in a Wall Street Journal article in 2003. “This would do more than challenge our intellect; it would test our humanity. Every year $70 billion is spent on medical research and development, yet only 10 percent is devoted to the diseases that cause 90 percent of the global health burden.”
With an endowment of over $38 billion, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped reduce poverty and promote new healthcare technology all over the world.
“It is an important foundation,” Lander explained, “It tends to fund projects that others won’t, especially in third-world countries.”