Grand Challenges Explorations grant

La Trobe is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner.

Warrick GrantThe Grand Challenges Explorations grant  initiative is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Dr Warwick Grant, Associate Professor in La Trobe University’s Department of Genetics will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled river blindness (Project title: A small animal model to validate onchocerca macrofilaricides).

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mould in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Dr Grant’s project is one of the Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
 
To receive funding, Dr Grant and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of four critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, neglected tropical diseases and communications. Applications for the next round will be accepted starting September 2013. 

Over 120 million people are at risk from river blindness chronic debilitating parasitic condition, termed a ‘disease of poverty’ by the World Health Organisation. Caused by a worm that is transmitted by a tiny blood-sucking fly that bites humans, the adult worms live more than 15 years in lumps under the skin and produce millions of baby worms that crawl around in people’s skin and eyes, causing skin disease and eventual blindness in many people.

Dr Grant will screen candidate drugs to replace ivermectin, the drug that has been used successfully in a mass distribution campaign by the WHO over the past 25 years in Africa, preventing 40 million people from being infected with the parasitic worm.

His ‘proof of concept’ research will focus on developing a new method for evaluating the effectiveness of drugs that might be able to kill adults and eradicate this disease.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, over 800 people in more than 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organisation. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

About La Trobe University

La Trobe is a globally recognised university that aims to address issues fundamental to the future of human societies and their environments. We are consistently ranked among the top 500 universities in the world and are ranked in the global top 50 universities under 50 years old. The 2012 Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) rankings places us third in Victoria for overall research quality and impact, number one in the nation for research in Microbiology and equal top in other areas of research. Our recently articulated ‘Future Ready’ objectives are set to elevate us even further in Australian and world rankings.

Background

Dr Grant, Associate Professor in La Trobe University’s Department of Genetics, will use the Gates Foundation grant to screen candidate drugs to replace ivermectin, the drug that has been used successfully in a mass distribution campaign by the WHO over the past 25 years in Africa, preventing 40 million people from being infected with the parasitic worm.

Ivermectin prevents disease by killing juvenile worms, but it does not kill adult worms, and many rounds of treatment ivermectin treatment are required before adult worms eventually die and transmission stops. It also cannot be used in areas where there is potential co-infection with other parasites.

‘Given that the worms can live for more than 15 years in a person and that although ivermectin can prevent disease it does not kill the adult worms already in patients, new drugs that can kill the adult are crucial for eventual eradication of the disease,’ said Dr Grant.

His ‘proof of concept’ research will focus on developing a new method for evaluating the effectiveness of drugs that might be able to kill adults and eradicate this disease.

Currently there are no laboratory models available upon which to test new drugs. Dr Grant intends to such a model in laboratory rats infected with a similar parasite to determine levels of toxicity and effectiveness.

The search for new drugs is particularly urgent because of growing concern about the potential of resistance to ivermectin.

‘Without new drugs that can kill adult worms, multiple treatments with ivermectin need to keep working effectively for at least another ten to 15 years across the continent to allow enough time for the current generation of adult worms to die and for parasite transmission to stop,’ said Dr Grant.

‘This research, funded by the Gates Foundation, is a wonderful example of La Trobe University engaging with global partners to make a difference in the world,’ said Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar.

To read more on this story visit the Bulletin.

Media contact:

Penny Underwood
Mediawise
T +61 3 9818 8540| E mediawise@mediawise.net.au

 

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