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

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 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!

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

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