Tag Archives: Grand Challenges Canada

Grand Challenges Canada funds 83 projects to improve global health

For the third year in a row (as per my Dec. 22, 2011 posting and my Nov. 22, 2012 posting), I’m featuring Grand Challenges Canada funding for its ‘Stars in Global Health’ programme . From the Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) Nov. 21, 2013 news release,

Imaginative: 83 Bold Innovations to Improve Global Health Receive Grand Challenges Canada Funding

Among novel ideas to reduce disease, save lives in developing world:
Diagnostic diapers to detect deadly rotavirus; Rolling water barrel;
Special yogurt offsets pesticides, heavy metals, toxins in food;
Inventive shoe, boot material releases bug repellent when walking

50 innovators from low- and middle-income countries,
plus 33 from Canada, share $9.3 million in seed grants

Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Government of Canada, today extends seed grants of $100,000 each to 83 inventive new ideas for addressing health problems in resource-poor countries.

The Grand Challenges Canada “Stars in Global Health” program seeks breakthrough and affordable innovations that could transform the way disease is treated in the developing world — innovations that may benefit the health of developed world citizens as well.

Of the 83 grants announced today, 50 are given to innovators in 15 low- and middle-income nations worldwide and 33 to Canadian-originated projects, to be implemented in a total of 30 countries throughout the developing world.

“Innovation powers development leading to better health and more jobs. I feel proud that Canada, through Grand Challenges Canada, has supported almost 300 bold ideas to date in our Stars in Global Health program,” says Dr. Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada.  ”This is one of the largest pipelines of innovations in global health in the world today.”

Says the Honourable Christian Paradis, Canadian Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie: “Grand Challenges Canada’s portfolio of projects shows how innovators with bold ideas have the potential to make a big impact on global health.  By connecting game-changing ideas with some of the most pressing global health challenges, these projects will lead to sustainable and affordable health solutions in low- and middle-income countries.”

The portfolio of 83 creative, out-of-the-box ideas, selected through independent peer review from 451 applications, includes projects submitted by social entrepreneurs, private sector companies and non-government organizations as well as university researchers.  Among them:

Diagnostics

  • A simple, portable, dry, yeast-based blood screening test (Belize, Jamaica).  WHO estimates almost half of 46 million blood donations in low-income countries are inadequately tested;  in Africa up to 10% of new HIV infections are caused by transfusions.  A University of Toronto-developed yeast-based blood screening tool will detect combinations of diseases. Like baking yeast, it can be stored dry, and can be grown locally with minimal equipment and training, improving accessibility in rural areas.
  • A bedside, Litmus paper-like test to detect bronchitis (Brazil, India). Being pioneered at McMaster University with international collaborators, a simple sputum test will detect infectious and allergic bronchitis in adults and children, reducing mis-diagnosis in developing countries and saving resources: time, steroids, antibiotics.

Water, sanitation, hygiene and general health

  • Special yogurts formulated to offset the harm to health caused by heavy metals, pesticides and other toxics in food (Africa).  Between 2006-2009 in Nairobi, only 17% of the total maize sampled and 5% of feed was fit for human and animal consumption respectively. University of Western Ontario researchers have developed novel yogurts containing a bacteria that, in the stomach, sequesters certain toxins and heavy metals and degrades some pesticides.
  • Addressing arsenic-laced groundwater. In Bangladesh, 1 in 5 deaths (600,000 per year) occur due to groundwater arsenic, dubbed by WHO as the largest mass poisoning in history, with some 77 million people at risk.  Project 1) Toronto-based PurifAid will deploy new filtration units via franchised villagers who will filter and deliver purified water, perform maintenance, acquire new filters and dispose of old ones, which can be used to produce biofuels.  Project 2) A project based at the University of Calgary, meanwhile, will work to increase the use of Western Canadian lentils in Bangladeshi diets.  The crop is rich in selenium, which can decrease arsenic levels and improve health.
  • “WaterWheel” (India, Kenya, Mongolia).  This simple, innovative device from India is a wheeled water container that enables the collection and transport of 3 to 5 times as much water as usual per trip, as well as hygienic storage, saving valuable time for productive activities and improving health.

Malaria

  • A vaccine based on a newly-discovered antibody in men that prevents malaria infection in the placenta (Benin, Colombia).  Colombian men exposed to malaria are found to have antibodies that can prevent infection in the placenta of a pregnant woman. This University of Alberta finding forms the basis for developing a novel vaccine against several forms of malaria, which cause 10,000 maternal deaths and 200,000 stillbirths annually.
  • Insect-repellent clothing, footwear and wall plaster (East Africa).  1) In Tanzania, the Africa Technical Research Institute will lead the design and manufacture of attractive, affordable insecticide-treated clothing while 2) the Ifakara Health Institute will develop anti-mosquito footwear material that slowly releases repellents from the friction of walking.  A key advantage: no compliance or change in habits required.  3) Uganda’s Med Biotech Laboratories, meanwhile, will produce a colorful, insecticide-infused ‘plaster’ for the outside walls of African village homes.

Maternal and child health

  • Mothers Telling Mothers: improving maternal health through storytelling (Uganda).  Work by Twezimbe Development Association has found that stories told by mothers in their own words and reflecting shared realities are most likely to increase the number of moms seeking skilled health care, and convince policymakers to improve healthcare access.  This project will capture 3 to 5 minutes stories to be shared through digital media platforms and health clinics.

Mobile technology

  • Digital African Health Library (Sub-Saharan Africa).  The University of Calgary-led project is creating an app to support bedside care by medical doctors in Africa: a smartphone-accessible resource providing evidence-based, locally-relevant decision support and health information.  A pilot involving 65 doctors in Rwanda showed point of care answers to patient questions more than tripled to 43%, with self-reported improvement in patient outcomes.

Health care

  • Simple sticker helps track clean surfaces in healthcare facilities (Philippines).  WHO estimates that 10% to 30% of all patients in developing country health care facilities acquire an infection.   An innovative sticker for hospital surfaces developed by Lunanos Inc. changes colour when a cleaner is applied and fades color after a predetermined period of time, helping staff track and ensure cleanliness of equipment and other frequently touched surfaces.
  • “Mystery clients” to assess and improve quality of TB care (India).  India accounts for 25% of global tuberculosis (TB) incidence.  To evaluate variations in practice quality, and identify ways to improve TB management in India, this project, led by Canada’s McGill University, will send researchers into clinics posing as a patient with standard TB symptoms.  The project builds on earlier work related to angina, asthma and dysentery, which revealed incorrect diagnoses and treatment.

And many more.

A complete set of 83 short project descriptions, with links to additional project details, available photos / video, and local contact information, is available in the full news release online here: http://bit.ly/HOLt5b

Here’s a video for the one of the projects (filtering arsenic out of Bangladesh’s water),

I chose this project somewhat haphazardly. It caught my attention as I have written more than once about purification efforts and as it turns out, this is a Canada-based project (with a Bangladeshi partner, BRAC) from the University of Toronto.

You may have heard the video’s narrator mention scotch whiskey, here’s why (from the YouTube page hosting the project video,page),

We plan to roll out a new generation of filtration units which run on an organic by-product of the beverage industry. The units address many of the failings of existing devices (they require no power or chemicals and are very low maintenance).

This project gets still more interesting (from the full project description page),

Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple Pollutants (DRAM) removes 95% of arsenic from contaminated water within 5 minutes of exposure. With an estimated 600,000 deaths directly attributable to arsenic poisoning every year, these units hold the potential to save millions of lives. Existing solutions are too complicated and suffer from significant usability issues (2012 UNICEF study).

We will deploy our units through a franchise business model. [emphasis mine] Local villagers will filter and deliver purified water, perform maintenance, acquire new media, and dispose spent media. The current market leader, the Sono Filter, has less than 20% uptake (according to UNICEF). DRAM costs only 25% of this solution, has lower maintenance requirements (4-6 month media cycle vs. 2 week media cycle), higher durability, and can be retrofitted onto existing tube wells villagers use thereby requiring no behavior change. The spent media (which must be replaced every 4-6 months) can be used to produce biofuels, giving PurifAid a decisive capability over competitors.

With the assistance of our local partner BRAC (ranked #1 on Global Journal’s list of top NGOs in 2012) we will retrofit our units onto existing tubewells. Contaminated water is pumped from the tubewell into the unit where it passes into the bottom of the unit, rising up through a bed of the organic filter media, binding the arsenic. Clean water is displaced and forced out of the top of the unit and out through the built-in tap. Our community based solution will begin with a proof-of-concept installation in the Mujibnagar District (pop. 1.3 million). BRAC will assist in testing our filter water quality on the ground and these results will be used to obtain regulatory approval for our technology. We will then operationalize our community-run DRAM systems. A council of local stakeholders will nominate prospective franchisees amongst villagers. These villagers will replace filter media in 4 month intervals and order annual delivery of new media. We are securing partnerships with nearby distilleries to locally source the filter media. [emphasis mine] Disposal will be handled by a local caretaker who will store spent media in bulk before transferring it for use as biofuel. Caretaker salary, media sourcing, and delivery costs will be paid by charging a levy on customer households. PurifAid will monitor behavioural and health indicators to ascertain DRAM’s immediate and long-term impact. To this end PurifAid has partnered with Ashalytics, a start-up global health analytics company, to report operational issues, measure impact, and communicate important metrics to key staff and stakeholders via mobile phones. This results in an environmentally-friendly value chain that uses beverage industry waste, maximizing positive impact. If the Bangladesh installations are a success then this system can be introduced across the Indian subcontinent and in west Africa, where arsenic in groundwater poses a serious health problem. DRAM has the potential to improve the lives of millions globally.

After 18 months we envisage having installed 15 DRAM systems supplying 45 liters of purified water per day to 2,700 households. In order to ensure maintenance, 15 paid caretakers will operate the pumps and a driver will supply the caretakers with fresh media every 4-6 months. Biannually, new bulk media will be provided to storage unit in the village, spent media will in turn be taken to a plant and converted to biofuel. Villagers will invest collectively to purchase, install and operate DRAM on pre-existing tube wells – thus no behavioral changes needed.

Our filters employ a new water filtration technology. Our franchise model involves social and business innovation, empowering communities to manage their own water treatment under the stewardship of a local partner that manages 17 social businesses with combined annual revenues of $93m in 2011.

(Aside: Don’t they ask for a ‘dram’ of whiskey in the movies?) This project is intended to do more than purify water; it’s designed to create jobs. Bravo!

Now back to the news release for details about the countries and agencies involved,

The global portfolio of grants, broken down by region and country:

30 projects based in 6 African countries (16 in Kenya, 5 in Tanzania, 5 in Uganda, 2 in Nigeria and 1 each in Senegal and Ghana)
17 projects based in 7 countries in Asia (7 in India, 2 in Pakistan 4 in Thailand and 1 each in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mongolia and the Philippines)
Two projects based in South America (Peru) and one in Europe (Armenia)
33 projects based in 11 Canadian cities (14 in Toronto, 3 each in Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver, 2 each in Winnipeg, Edmonton and London, and 1 each in Halifax, Hamilton, Ottawa and Saskatoon)

The Canadian-based projects will be implemented worldwide (a majority of them implemented simultaneously in more than one country):

15 countries in Africa (5 in Kenya, 4 in Tanzania, 3 each in Uganda and Ethiopia, 2 each in Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, and Zambia, and 1 each in Benin, Botswana, Ghana,  Malawi, Nigeria, and DR Congo)
8 countries in Asia (8 in India, 6 in Bangladesh, 1 each in Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand)
5 countries in South and Latin America (Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, Peru.) and
1 in the Middle East (Egypt)

Including today’s grants, total investments to date under the Grand Challenges Canada “Stars in Global Health” program is $32 million in 295 projects.

For full details: http://bit.ly/HOLt5b

* * * * *

About Grand Challenges Canada

Grand Challenges Canada is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact in global

health. We are funded by the Government of Canada through the Development Innovation Fund announced in the 2008 Federal Budget. We fund innovators in low- and middle-income countries and Canada. Grand Challenges Canada works with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and other global health foundations and organizations to find sustainable, long-term solutions through Integrated Innovation − bold ideas that integrate science, technology, social and business innovation. Grand Challenges Canada is hosted at the Sandra Rotman Centre.

Please visit grandchallenges.ca  and look for us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.

About Canada’s International Development Research Centre

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) supports research in developing countries to promote growth and development. IDRC also encourages sharing this knowledge with policymakers, other researchers and communities around the world. The result is innovative, lasting local solutions that aim to bring choice and change to those who need it most. As the Government of Canada’s lead on the Development Innovation Fund, IDRC draws on decades of experience managing publicly funded research projects to administer the Development Innovation Fund. IDRC also ensures that developing country researchers and concerns are front and centre in this exciting new initiative.

www.idrc.ca

About Canadian Institutes of Health Research

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada’s health research investment agency. CIHR’s mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health care system. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 14,100 health researchers and trainees across Canada. CIHR will be responsible for the administration of international peer review, according to international standards of excellence. The results of CIHR-led peer reviews will guide the awarding of grants by Grand Challenges Canada from the Development Innovation Fund.

www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca

About the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

The mandate of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada is to manage Canada’s diplomatic and consular relations, to encourage the country’s international trade, and to lead Canada’s international development and humanitarian assistance.

www.international.gc.ca

About Sandra Rotman Centre

The Sandra Rotman Centre is based at University Health Network and the University of Toronto. We develop innovative global health solutions and help bring them to scale where they are most urgently needed. The Sandra Rotman Centre hosts Grand Challenges Canada.

www.srcglobal.org

I have found it confusing that there’s a Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a Grand Challenges programme, both of which making funding announcements at this time of year. I did make some further investigations which I noted in my Dec. 22, 2011 posting,

Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $21.1 M grant over three years for research into point-of-care diagnostic tools for developing nations. A Canadian nongovermental organization (NGO) will be supplementing this amount with $10.8 M for a total of $31.9 M. (source: Dec. 16, 2011 AFP news item [Agence France-Presse] on MedicalXpress.com)

At this point, things get a little confusing. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a specific program called Grand Challenges in Global Health and this grant is part of that program. Plus, the Canadian NGO is called Grand Challenges Canada (couldn’t they have found a more distinctive name?), which is funded by a federal Canadian government initiative known as the Development Innovation Fund (DIF). …

Weirdly, no one consulted with me when they named the Bil & Melinda Gates Foundation programme or the Canadian NGO.

Saving lives at birth 2013: Round 3 award nominees and their technologies

As I have noted before (most recently in a Feb. 13, 2013 posting) there are at least two Grand Challenges, one is a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation program and the other, Grand Challenges Canada, is funded by the Canadian government. Both organizations along with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of Norway, and the U.K’s Department for International Development (DFID) have combined their efforts on maternal health in a partnership, Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development. 2013 is the third year for this competitive funding program, which attracts entries from around the world.

The organization’s July 31, 2013 news release announces the latest funding nominees,

The Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development today announced 22 Round 3 award nominees from a pool of 53 finalists – innovators who descended on Washington for three days (DevelopmentXChange) to showcase bold, new ideas to save the lives of mothers and newborns in developing countries with aspirations of international funding to realize their vision.

The award nominees cut across maternal and neonatal health, family planning, nutrition and HIV and they present not only cutting-edge technologies that can be used in resource-poor settings, but innovative approaches to delivering services and the adoption of healthy behaviors. The announcement was made at the closing forum of the DevelopmentXChange by the Saving Lives at Birth partners. The nominees will now enter into final negotiations before awards are issued. [emphasis mine]

If I read this rightly, the nominees do not receive a set amount but negotiate for the money they need to implement and/or develop their ‘solution’. The news release provides more details about the process that applicants undertake when they reach the finalist stage,

The Saving Lives at Birth DevelopmentXChange provided a platform for top global innovators to present their ideas in an open, dynamic marketplace and exchange ideas with development experts and potential funders to help meet the immense challenge of protecting mothers and newborns in the poorest places on earth, during their most vulnerable hours. Other promising ideas will be considered for “incubator awards” to assist innovators in further developing their ideas through dialogue and mentorship.

….

The Saving Lives at Birth DevelopmentXChange featured discussions focused on meeting the needs and realities of women and children in low-resource settings as well as workshops that explored business planning, market research, impact investing, and strategies for scaling their innovations.  The three-day event concluded with a forum featuring Ambassador Susan E. Rice, National Security Advisor; Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator, USAID; HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan; New York Times best-selling author Dan Heath and NASA astronaut Col. Ron Garan (ret.).

Leading into the DevelopmentXChange, existing Saving Lives at Birth grantees participated in a three-day, customized training program – a focal point of the global health Xcelerator.  This eight-month program, offered through a partnership between National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), the Lemelson Foundation and USAID, provides grantees the tools and knowledge to scale their ideas and maximize the impact of their innovations.

Here’s the list of nominees who emerged from the process (there is one overtly nanotechnology project listed and I suspect others are also enabled by nanotechnology),

Award nominees of Saving Lives at Birth Round 3 include 4 transition-to-scale grant nominees:

· Africare – Dakar, Senegal: A collaborative community-based technology that integrates community support services with mobile and telemedicine platforms to increase demand for, and access to, quality prenatal care services in Senegal.  More: http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/232

· Epidemiological Research Center in Sexual and Reproductive Health – Guatemala City, Guatemala: An integrated approach to reduce maternal and perinatal mortality in Northern Guatemala through simulation-based training, social marketing campaigns and formal health care system engagement.  More: http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/246

· Massachusetts General Hospital – Boston, MA, USA: A next-generation uterine balloon tamponade (UBT) device to treat postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) in Kenya and South Sudan.  More: http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/255

· The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital – Columbus, OH, USA: A low-cost paper-based urine test for early diagnosis of pre-eclampsia to reduce pre-eclampsia morbidity and mortality in resource-limited areas.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/275

And 18 seed grant nominees:

· BILIMETRIX SRL – Trieste, Italy: An inexpensive system to rapidly test for markers of hyperbilirubinemia (kernicterus)-an often fatal form of brain damage caused by excessive jaundice- in low resource settings in Nigeria, Egypt, and Indonesia.  More: http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/235

· JustMilk - Dept. of Chemical Engineering, University of Cambridge – Cambridge, UK: A low-cost system that aids the administration of drugs and nutrients to breastfeeding infants via easily disintegrating tablets housed within a modified Nipple Shield Delivery System (NSDS).  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/241

· The University of Melbourne - Melbourne, Australia: A low-cost, electricity-free oxygen concentrator suitable for providing provisional oxygen for neonates in low-resource settings.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/277

· University of Toronto - Toronto, Canada: A spray-encapsulated iron premix that will be attached to tea leaves to reduce rates of iron deficiency of pregnant women in South Asia.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/279

· University of Valencia - Valencia, Spain: A rapid point-of-care test strips for early diagnosis of sepsis in pregnancy and childbirth. More: http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/281

· Mbarara University of Science and Technology - Mbarara, Uganda: The Augmented Infant Resuscitator (AIR) which gives instant feedback to healthcare professionals performing newborn resuscitation to reduce neonatal deaths from intrapartum birth asphyxia or prematurity.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/256

· Bioceptive, Inc. – New Orleans, LA, USA: A low-cost, reusable, and intuitive intrauterine device (IUD) inserter to make the IUD insertion procedure easier and safer in low-resource settings. http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/236

· Convergent Engineering Inc. – Newberry, FL, USA: An inexpensive, easy-to-use, handheld early-warning system that detects pre-eclampsia 10-12 weeks before the onset symptoms. The system pairs a wrist strap embedded with inexpensive ECG and photoplethysmography sensors with a smart phone for processing, data aggregation, and communication.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/239

· Dimagi, Inc. (CommTrack) – Cambridge, MA, USA: An open-source distribution management system integrating mobile and GPS technology to improve transparency, supply chain functioning, communication, and the timely delivery of medicine to hard to reach, low-income areas in Africa.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/243

· Duke University- Durham, NC, USA:  Healthcare system integration of the “Pratt Pouch”-a tiny ketchup-like packet that stores antiretroviral AIDS medication for a year-to enable the pouch to be used in home-birth settings to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child. Testing taking place in Zambia.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/244

· Emory University – Atlanta, GA, USA: A micro-needle patch that co-administers the influenza and tetanus toxoid vaccines to pregnant mothers and children in developing countries.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/245

· Nanobiosym, Inc – Cambridge, MA, USA: A nanotech platform which enables rapid, accurate and mobile HIV diagnosis at point-of-care, allowing for timely treatment with antiretroviral therapy to reduce HIV-related mortality in infants in Rwanda.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/259

· Oregon Health and Science University – Portland, OR, USA: The Xstat mini-sponge applicator for the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH).  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/260

· Population Services International – Washington DC, USA: A new inserter for immediate postpartum intrauterine device (PPIUD) insertions to increase contraceptive uptake in developing countries.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/263

· President and Fellows of Harvard College – Boston, MA, USA: A handheld vital sign monitor for the rapid diagnosis of frail and sick newborns.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/264

· Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) – Seattle, WA, USA: A heat-stable oxytocin in a fast-dissolving oral tablet to treat postpartum hemorrhage (PPH).  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/268

· Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) – Seattle, WA, USA: A magnesium sulfate (MgSO4) gel that simplifies treatment of pre-eclampsia and eclampsia.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/267

· The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System – Madison, WI, USA: A Lactobacillus casei strain that enables the sustainable home production of beta-Carotene enriched dairy products for at-risk mothers and families in Southern Asia.  http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/272

While it’s not stated explicitly, the main focus for Saving Lives at Birth appears to be the continent of Africa as per this video animation which represents the organization’s goals and focus,

Biosensing cocaine

Amusingly, the Feb. 13, 2013 news item on Nanowerk highlights the biosensing aspect of the work in its title,

New biosensing nanotechnology adopts natural mechanisms to detect molecules

(Nanowerk News) Since the beginning of time, living organisms have developed ingenious mechanisms to monitor their environment.

The Feb. 13, 2013 news release from the University of Montreal (Université de Montréal) takes a somewhat different tack by focusing on cocaine,

Detecting cocaine “naturally”

Since the beginning of time, living organisms have developed ingenious mechanisms to monitor their environment. As part of an international study, a team of researchers has adapted some of these natural mechanisms to detect specific molecules such as cocaine more accurately and quickly. Their work may greatly facilitate the rapid screening—less than five minutes—of many drugs, infectious diseases, and cancers.

Professor Alexis Vallée-Bélisle of the University of Montreal Department of Chemistry has worked with Professor Francesco Ricci of the University of Rome Tor Vergata and Professor Kevin W. Plaxco of the University of California at Santa Barbara to improve a new biosensing nanotechnology. The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of American Chemical Society (JACS).

The scientists have provided an interesting image to illustrate their work,

Artist's rendering: the research team used an existing cocaine biosensor (in green) and revised its design to react to a series of inhibitor molecules (in blue). They were able to adapt the biosensor to respond optimally even within a large concentration window. Courtesy: University of Montreal

Artist’s rendering: the research team used an existing cocaine biosensor (in green) and revised its design to react to a series of inhibitor molecules (in blue). They were able to adapt the biosensor to respond optimally even within a large concentration window. Courtesy: University of Montreal

The news release provides some insight into the current state of biosensing and what the research team was attempting to accomplish,

“Nature is a continuing source of inspiration for developing new technologies,” says Professor Francesco Ricci, senior author of the study. “Many scientists are currently working to develop biosensor technology to detect—directly in the bloodstream and in seconds—drug, disease, and cancer molecules.”

“The most recent rapid and easy-to-use biosensors developed by scientists to determine the levels of various molecules such as drugs and disease markers in the blood only do so when the molecule is present in a certain concentration, called the concentration window,” adds Professor Vallée-Bélisle. “Below or above this window, current biosensors lose much of their accuracy.”

To overcome this limitation, the international team looked at nature: “In cells, living organisms often use inhibitor or activator molecules to automatically program the sensitivity of their receptors (sensors), which are able to identify the precise amount of thousand of molecules in seconds,” explains Professor Vallée-Bélisle. “We therefore decided to adapt these inhibition, activation, and sequestration mechanisms to improve the efficiency of artificial biosensors.”

The researchers put their idea to the test by using an existing cocaine biosensor and revising its design so that it would respond to a series of inhibitor molecules. They were able to adapt the biosensor to respond optimally even with a large concentration window. “What is fascinating,” says Alessandro Porchetta, a doctoral student at the University of Rome, “is that we were successful in controlling the interactions of this system by mimicking mechanisms that occur naturally.”

“Besides the obvious applications in biosensor design, I think this work will pave the way for important applications related to the administration of cancer-targeting drugs, an area of increasing importance,” says Professor Kevin Plaxco. “The ability to accurately regulate biosensor or nanomachine’s activities will greatly increase their efficiency.”

The funders for this project are (from the news release),

… the Italian Ministry of Universities and Research (MIUR), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations program, the European Commission Marie Curie Actions program, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and the Fonds de recherche du Québec Nature et Technologies.

Here’s a citation and a link to the research paper,

Using Distal-Site Mutations and Allosteric Inhibition To Tune, Extend, and Narrow the Useful Dynamic Range of Aptamer-Based Sensors by Alessandro Porchetta, Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, Kevin W. Plaxco, and Francesco Ricci. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2012, 134 (51), pp 20601–20604 DOI: 10.1021/ja310585e Publication Date (Web): December 6, 2012

Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society

This article is behind a paywall.

One final note, Alexis Vallée-Bélisle has been mentioned here before in the context of a ‘Grand Challenges Canada programme’ (not the Bill and Melinda Gates ‘Grand Challenges’) announcement of several fundees  in my Nov. 22, 2012 posting. That funding appears to be for a difference project.

Grand Challenges Canada announces latest Canadian and international ‘stars’ in global health grants

I last mentioned the Grand Challenges Canada organization in last year’s Dec. 22, 2011 posting. It’s a non-governmental organization funded by the Canadian federal government. I did express some confusion regarding the governmental/non-governmental aspects in last year’s posting,

So if I understand this rightly, the Canadian federal government created a new fund and then created a new NGO to administer that fund. I wonder how much money is required administratively for this NGO which exists solely to distribute DIF [Development Innovation Fund]. I’m glad to see that someone is getting some money for research out of this but it does seem labyrinthine at best.

Leaving that discussion aside, let’s focus on this year’s grantees and their projects (from the Nov. 22, 2012 news release about the Canadian grantees),

CANADA’S STARS IN GLOBAL HEALTH SHINE

FROM SEA TO SEA & WIN FUNDING FROM

GRAND CHALLENGES CANADA

From cities all across the country, 17 Canadians are selected for their bold out-of-the-box ideas to tackle debilitating disease and save lives in the Developing World

 Toronto.  Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Government of Canada, announced today seed grants awarded to 17 innovators for their bold and creative ideas to tackle health conditions in poor countries. The Stars in Global Health program seeks unique, breakthrough and affordable ideas which can be transformative in addressing disease – innovations that can benefit the developed world as well. The 17 were selected from a total of 60 proposals submitted for the Canadian Stars program. A total of more than $1.7 million in funding will go to innovators from across Canada.

The bold ideas are breakthrough innovations such as mimicking rocket propelled technology, but in the body, to address maternal bleeding. A meter to detect HIV infection in fewer than 5 minutes. And a virtual reality game to assist stroke victims.

“Canada has a deep pool of talent dedicated to pursuing bold ideas that can have big impact in the developing world,” said Dr. Peter A. Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada. “Grand Challenges Canada is proud to support these extraordinary innovators from across the country because they will make a difference to so many lives.”

“Canada works with our like-minded partners throughout the world to leverage our investments in health innovation so they’re focused on getting results,” said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. “We support Grand Challenges Canada’s Stars in Global Health so these innovators can apply their talents and further efforts to make the world a healthier and safer place.”

Each of the 17 innovators will receive a grant of $100,000 to develop their bold ideas, which include:

  • Vancouver: Dr. Christian Kastrup will mimic rocket technology to propel coagulant nanoparticles into the bloodstream and stop maternal bleeding, a major cause of death in the developing world. (for video: http://bit.ly/RWdW9w)
  • Vancouver: Dr. Robin Evans is developing a Burn Survival Kit, a high-tech solution to treat burn victims. The innovation is being tested in Uganda where often burns are untreated or mistreated. This unique kit will include a low-cost silver nanotubule dressing so that the treatment is affordable. (for video: http://bit.ly/T2rPFK)
  • Edmonton: Dr. Julianne Gibbs-Davis is creating a unique approach to diagnosing TB. It involves extracting DNA from the infected persons TB bacteria and does not require the usual temperature recycling that is expensive and difficult to implement in low resource settings. (for video: http://bit.ly/SKNLSf)
  • Hamilton: Dr. Leyla Soleymani is also tackling TB diagnosis with a hand-held, solar rechargeable, inexpensive diagnostic for rapid assessment of patients at the bedside.

(for video: http://bit.ly/T02HhS)

  • Toronto: Dr. Cheng Lu has a unique idea for tackling clinic and hospital infections. A coating can be sprayed or wiped on surfaces; once applied, the long-lasting anti-bacterial components are activated by sunlight or artificial light. Easy to use and effective.           (for video: http://bit.ly/TDxU6L)
  • Kingston: Dr. Karen Yeates will employ cell phones to improve cervical cancer screening and detection. It is being tested in remote areas of Tanzania.

(for video: http://bit.ly/RSvWTK)

  • Ottawa: Dr. Marion Roche will use social marketing to rejuvenate interest in taking zinc to control childhood diarrhea. (for video: http://bit.ly/QF7S8t)
  • Montreal: Dr. Philippe Archambault will use virtual reality to assist rehabilitation of stroke victims suffering from hand or arm immobilization. (for video: http://bit.ly/T2rX7X)
  • Montreal: Dr. Hanna Kienzler’s project is called “Defeating the Giant with a Slingshot” and is a novel approach to treating trauma in the developing world. The innovation results in blocking trauma memory and will be tested with torture victims in Nepal.

(for video: http://bit.ly/QF7TJx)

  • Montreal: Dr. Alexis Vallée-Bélisle is developing a meter to detect HIV infection in fewer than 5 minutes. This diagnostic will lead to earlier treatment of the disease.

(for video: http://bit.ly/XD4oFw)

  • Halifax: Dr. Patricia Livingston’s project will improve emergency services with a specific focus on crisis management for mothers delivering babies. The project is being tested in Rwanda. (for video: http://bit.ly/TCTACv)

“It is inspiring to see the wealth of Canadian talent working to improve the health of people in developing countries,” said Joseph L. Rotman, Chair of Grand Challenges Canada. “Our Stars in Global Health program is an excellent opportunity for these dedicated Canadian innovators, with support from the Government of Canada, to bring their bold ideas forward and improve global health conditions.”

In addition to these 17 Canadian innovators, Grand Challenges Canada announced today 51 grants totalling just over $7 million for Canadians and developing world innovators. Like the Canadian Stars, these innovators’ bold ideas aim to tackle global health challenges* (http://www.grandchallenges.ca/wp-content/uploads/stars-LMIC-newsrelease-2012nov22-en.pdf)

In total, 68 Canadian and developing world innovators were selected from 310 submitted proposals.

Upon completion of this grant, if their ideas are effective and proven, the innovators will be eligible for an additional Grand Challenges Canada scale-up funding of up to $1 million.

Grand Challenges Canada is funded by the Government of Canada through the Development

Innovation Fund announced in the 2008 Federal Budget.

For information on the grants and to see each Canadian Star’s short video explaining the project, visit http://www.grandchallenges.ca/stars-r3-grantee-announcement-en/.

Please visit grandchallenges.ca and look for us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.

About Grand Challenges Canada

Grand Challenges Canada is dedicated to supporting bold ideas with big impact in global health. We are funded by the Government of Canada through the Development Innovation Fund announced in the 2008 Federal Budget. We fund innovators in low and middle income countries and Canada. Grand Challenges Canada works with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and other global health foundations and organizations to find sustainable long-term solutions through integrated innovation – bold ideas which integrate science, technology, social and business innovation. Grand Challenges Canada is hosted at the Sandra Rotman Centre.

www.grandchallenges.ca

 

About Canada’s International Development Research Centre

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) supports research in developing countries to promote growth and development. IDRC also encourages sharing this knowledge with policymakers, other researchers and communities around the world. The result is innovative, lasting local solutions that aim to bring choice and change to those who need it most.

As the Government of Canada’s lead on the Development Innovation Fund, IDRC draws on decades of experience managing publicly funded research projects to administer the Development Innovation Fund. IDRC also ensures that developing country researchers and concerns are front and centre in this exciting new initiative.

www.idrc.ca

There’s also a Nov. 22, 2012 news release about the newly funded projects which are being led internationally. Here’s a few I find particularly interestin,

A new trading system in Kenya: seeds and fertilizers for proof of child vaccinations

(for video: http://bit.ly/UFlMmN)

To eliminate persistent pocket areas of Kenya where children are not vaccinated or undervaccinated, researchers will create a barcoded vaccination card redeemable for farm seeds and fertilizer.

Updated each time a child gets a vaccine, the card is taken to one of about 20,000 local agro-vet outlets, where the barcode is scanned using an app on a camera-equipped smartphone. The farmer would then redeem an “agri-credit” for essential farm inputs.

Lead researcher Benson Wamalwa of the University of Nairobi says the program “would powerfully incentivize parents to seek and adhere to their children’s immunization schedule even when hard pressed financially to reach a distant vaccination centre.

The idea is a practical solution that would significantly boost small farm productivity and incomes for poor household while safeguarding the general health of children in farming villages through up-to-date immunizations.”

Creating wealth from human waste in cholera-troubled Haiti

(for video: http://bit.ly/RBbN38)

The recent cholera outbreak in Haiti heightened both awareness of the problem’s cause and demand for better sanitation services — a tough challenge in environments without reliable running water. Meanwhile, national demand for farm and forest compost is high.

Hoping to capitalize on those twin realities, a Haitian group will build in urban slums the first new $200, waterless “EcoSan” toilets that produce revenue-generating compost, with hopes of inspiring entrepreneurs to replicate the project throughout Haiti and around the world, where 2.5 billion people lack sanitation access.

The project will document the number of toilets built and people receiving sanitation services, quantity of compost produced, sales and the outcomes of tests for pathogens and nutrients.

A $100 kitchen reno to reduce indoor pollution and problem pregnancies in Bangladesh

(for video: http://bit.ly/THAPNQ)

The International Energy Agency estimates that biomass fuels such as wood and dung will continue providing 30% of global energy in resource-poor settings though 2050.

Exposure to smoke from biomass cooking fuels, however, is known to cause placental dysfunction and is highly associated with low birth-weight babies in developing countries. Part of the solution could be a locally-made, simple prefabricated “$100 kitchen” featuring a clean-combustion stove.

Researchers in Bangladesh will conduct a randomized controlled trial with 430 willing mothers, 2 to 3 months pregnant, half of whom will use the innovative, well-ventilated $100 kitchen with reinforced cement infrastructure, a waste disposal system, and a stove that combusts biofuels with minimal smoke.

Mobile app to reduce obesity in northern Nigeria

(for video: http://bit.ly/THB7nV)

WHO projects that globally by 2015 about 2.3 billion adults will be overweight; more than 700 million will be obese — an epidemic growing fastest in developing countries and leading to diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke.

In rural northern Nigeria, where mobile phone use is now common (use in Nigeria rose almost 1,300% in 2010-11), health researchers led by Sally Akarolo-Anthony will work with a high-tech firm to create a smartphone app to provide a virtual mentor and online buddy system.

The app will compute a user’s metabolic rate and caloric requirement, prompt daily exercise, collect data on activity and eating, offer healthy diet tips (e.g. white vs. brown rice), estimate the daily calorie intake required to meet a weight-loss goal, and monitor change over time.

I wish all of the researchers success with their projects, which would mean success for Grand Challenges Canada and this particular model for funding.

Alberta’s diagnostic tool on a chip (aka point-of-care diagnostics)

2012 seems to be continuing a trend that 2011 enjoyed, the race to develop diagnostics-on-a-chip (aka handheld diagnostics or point-of-care diagnostics). The latest story is from Tannara Yelland for Canadian University Press in a Jan. 3, 2012 article titled, Where nanotechnology and medicine meet; University of Alberta researcher shrinks medical tests, makes them more affordable,

Researchers have made great strides in diagnostic tools for detecting the genetic abnormalities that lead to or signal cancers, but many of these remain solely the province of experimental labs because of practical impediments like the cost of equipment.

Aiming specifically to make clinical medicine easier and less expensive to conduct, Pilarski [Linda Pilarski, a University of Alberta oncology professor and Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Nanotechnology] and her team have created a microfluidic chip about the size of a thumbnail that can test for up to 80 different genetic markers of cancer.

“Most of the things we were doing were much too complicated to do in a clinical lab,” Pilarski said. “Their technology has to be far more regulated than what we’re doing in the lab. It may be feasible [to use current experimental tests] in a big research hospital, but not in Stony Plains [Alberta], in our little health care centre, for example.

“And with tests that are feasible, they’re feasible only because they study many samples at once.”

… They have reversed the normal procedure, studying several samples for one disease, in the hopes of making tests easier to do in more remote locations.

There are about 80 small posts attached to a glass chip, and each post carries out a different test for a different mutation. Unlike the currently used larger equipment, Pilarski says these chips should allow clinicians to perform the tests within an hour, and rather than make patients wait a nerve-wracking few days for their results, they can find out before they leave the lab.

While Pilarski’s work has focused on cancer, the chip she has developed could be used to test for any number of illnesses, which is precisely what medical equipment company Aquila Diagnostics plans to do with Pilarski’s technology.

“Some of the first things to come out might not be for cancer but for infectious diseases,” Pilarski said.

My most recent posting on handheld diagnostic tools, Dec. 22, 2011, noted the Grand Challenges grants (from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and from the Canadian not-for-profit agency called Grand Challenges) awarded to researchers working on the problem of diagnosing infectious diseases in the developing world. From the posting,

The grants announced today are part of the Point-of-Care Diagnostics (POC Dx) Initiative [of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation], a research and development program with the goal of creating new diagnostic platforms that enable high-quality, low-cost diagnosis of disease, and also facilitate sustainable markets for diagnostic products, a key challenge in the developing world. This first phase of the POC Dx Initiative is focused on developing new technologies and identifying implementation issues to address the key barriers for clinical diagnostics in the developing world.

Getting back to  Pilarski and the Alberta initiative, the company mentioned in the article, Aquila Diagnostics is based in Edmonton, Alberta and is associated with the University of Alberta. From the company website home page,

Aquila is a medical device company focused on point-of-care diagnosis testing for blood borne infectious diseases and cancer. The Company is developing a portable diagnostic system that delivers rapid, low-cost, multiparameter tests without the need for highly-skilled operators. Aquila’s gel post PCR technology is protected and under licence from the University of Alberta.

I look forward to hearing more about these initiatives as they get closer to market.

Grand Challenges, point-of-care diagnostics, and a note on proliferating bureaucracies

Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $21.1 M grant over three years for research into point-of-care diagnostic tools for developing nations. A Canadian nongovermental organization (NGO) will be supplementing this amount with $10.8 M for a total of $31.9 M. (source: Dec. 16, 2011 AFP news item [Agence France-Presse] on MedicalXpress.com)

At this point, things get a little confusing. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a specific program called Grand Challenges in Global Health and this grant is part of that program. Plus, the Canadian NGO is called Grand Challenges Canada (couldn’t they have found a more distinctive name?), which is funded by a federal Canadian government initiative known as the Development Innovation Fund (DIF). Here’s a little more from the Who We Are page,

In the 2008 Federal Budget the Government of Canada announced the creation of the Development Innovation Fund (DIF) to “support the best minds in the world as they search for breakthroughs in global health and other areas that have the potential to bring about enduring changes in the lives of the millions of people in poor countries.” The Government of Canada is committing $225 million over five years to the Development Innovation Fund.

The Development Innovation Fund will be delivered by Grand Challenges Canada working with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). As the Government of Canada’s lead on the Development Innovation Fund, the International Development Research Centre will draw on decades of experience managing research projects and ensure that developing country researchers and concerns are front and centre in this exciting new initiative. The initial activities of the Development Innovation Fund will be in global health.

Grand Challenges Canada is a unique and independent not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people in developing countries by integrating scientific, technological, business and social innovation both in Canada and in the developing world. Grand Challenges Canada works with the International Development Research Centre, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and other global health foundations and organizations committed to discovering sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing health challenges. Grand Challenges Canada is hosted by the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, University Health Network and University of Toronto.

So if I understand this rightly, the Canadian federal government created a new fund and then created a new NGO to administer that fund. I wonder how much money is required administratively for this NGO which exists solely to distribute DIF. I’m glad to see that someone is getting some money for research out of this but it does seem labyrinthine at best.

On a happier, more productive now, here’s the type of research this money will be used for (from the MedicalXpress.com news item),

“Imagine a hand-held, battery-powered device that can take a drop of blood and, within minutes, tell a healthcare worker in a remote village whether a feverish child has malaria, dengue or a bacterial infection,” said Peter Singer, head of Grand Challenges Canada which is partnering with the Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s charitable organization on the project.

In this last year I have posted a few times about similar projects for handheld diagnostic devices, in my Aug. 4, 2011 posting ‘Diagnostics on a credit card‘ and in my Feb. 15, 2011 posting ‘Argento, nano, and PROOF‘. There’s a lot of interest in these devices whether they’re intended for use in developing countries or not.

I have tracked down the Dec. 15, 2011 news release from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to get more details about this specific project,

The grants announced today are part of the Point-of-Care Diagnostics (POC Dx) Initiative, a research and development program with the goal of creating new diagnostic platforms that enable high-quality, low-cost diagnosis of disease, and also facilitate sustainable markets for diagnostic products, a key challenge in the developing world. This first phase of the POC Dx Initiative is focused on developing new technologies and identifying implementation issues to address the key barriers for clinical diagnostics in the developing world.

They also give some examples of projects that will be receiving funding from this grant,

Examples of projects receiving funding:

  • Seventh Sense Biosystems, a company located in Cambridge MA, is developing TAP—a painless, low-cost blood collection device which aims to allow easy, push-button sampling of blood. This simple collection process would reduce training requirements and enable diagnostics closer to the point of need.
  • David Beebe and researchers at the University of Wisconsin are developing a sample purification system that seeks to better filter and concentrate biomarkers from patient samples. This system will be designed for use in impoverished settings.
  • Axel Scherer of the California Institute of Technology, along with collaborators at Dartmouth College, will develop a prototype quantitative PCR (qPCR) amplification/detection component module—a low cost, easy-to-use technology that can rapidly detect a wide range of diseases.

There’s additional detail about grantees in the Grand Challenges Canada Dec. 16, 2011 news release,

One grantee, Bigtec Labs in Bangalore, India, has already developed a handheld analyser called a mini-PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) machine capable of identifying malaria from a DNA fingerprint.

―A colleague here one day was ill with what he thought was food poisoning,” said

B. Chandrasekhar Nair, Director of Bigtec Labs. “We ran a blood sample through our mini-PCR and it turned out to be malaria.‖ Immediately treated, the colleague returned to health within a week.

With its CAD $1.3 million grant, Bigtec will use nano-materials to develop a sophisticated filter to concentrate pathogen DNA from samples of blood, sputum, urine, or nasal and throat swabs. Once concentrated, the DNA can be processed and illnesses identified in the mini-PCR.

The innovative projects receiving funding include:

 Dr. Dhananjaya Dendukuri from Achira Labs in Bangalore India, and Dr. Nandini Dendukuri from McGill University in Montreal are developing a piece of silk that can be used as a cost-effective and simple diagnostic for blood and urine samples. Called Fabchips (Fabric Chips) the woven diagnostic has the added benefit of providing jobs to local artisans and being environmentally friendly.

 Dr. David Goldfarb, a Canadian working in Botswana, is testing a simple, rapid, easy-to-use swab for the detection of diarrheal disease in the developing world.

 Dr. Wendy Stevens from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa is testing new point-of-care technologies for the integrated management of HIV and TB treatment to encourage equity, affordability and accessibility to treatment.

 Dr. Patricia Garcia at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Peru will look at ways to overcome social and commercial barriers to delivering point-of-care diagnostic tests aimed at improving maternal and child health – two of the UN‘s Millennium Development goals for 2015.

There’s a full list of all the grantees (Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and links to videos here.

Here’s a sample video of Dr. Dhananjaya Dendukuri to get you started,

Congratulations to the researchers!