Grand Challenges Explorations grant for research in global health

1 November 2012

HELIX logo


Dr Sudhin Thayyil (UCL Institute for Women’s Health) is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He will pursue an innovative global health and development research project called HELIX (Hypothermia for Encephalopathy in Low Income countries).

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and persistent global health and development challenges. GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to solve the problems people in the developing world face every day.

Dr Thayyil’s project is one of over 80 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Investments in innovative global health research are already paying off,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We continue to be impressed by the novelty and innovative spirit of Grand Challenges Explorations projects and are enthusiastic about this exciting research. These investments hold real potential to yield new solutions to improve the health of millions of people in the developing world, and ensure that everyone has the chance to live a healthy, productive life.”

Cooling therapy is one of the greatest discoveries in neonatology – for approximately every 13 encephalopathic babies cooled, one death is prevented, in high-income countries.

Dr Sudhin Thayyil, UCL Institute for Women's Health

To receive funding, Dr Thayyil and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a creative idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and communications.

Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10, will be accepted until November 7, 2012.

Cooling therapy is now the standard of care treatment for neonatal encephalopathy (an unexpected and devastating condition that occurs due to a lack of oxygen and blood supply to the baby’s brain around the time of birth) in high-income countries, and it significantly reduces mortality and neurodisability.

The burden of encephalopathy in low resource settings is much higher – approximately 400 babies in the UK die every year from this condition as opposed to one million neonatal deaths in low resource settings; a quarter of these deaths occur in India alone.

Cooling therapy is not yet available in low resource settings for two reasons: firstly, there is no effective low technology cooling device suitable for wider use; and secondly, safety and efficacy of cooling outside the setting of a well-resourced high-income country neonatal intensive care unit is not known.

Dr Thayyil will undertake this work in collaboration with Professor Seetha Shankaran (Wayne State University Hospital, Michigan, USA) and a team of neonatologists at Calicut Medical College, India.

In the first part of this study, the research team will develop a low technology, servo controlled, whole body cooling device, and in the second part they will evaluate the use of this cooling device in a multi-country setting (India, Pakistan, Argentina and Mexico).

The inaugural meting of the HELIX trial will be conducted on December 29, 2012 at Calicut Medical College, Kerala, India.

“Cooling therapy is one of the greatest discoveries in neonatology – for approximately every 13 encephalopathic babies cooled, one death is prevented, in high-income countries”, said Dr Thayyil.

Professor Seetha Shankaran, who led the first cooling trial performed by the NICHD Neonatal Research Network, to demonstrate the benefit of whole body cooling (NEJM 2005) said: “We hope we can demonstrate, in a trial in low resource countries using this device, that hypothermia therapy for full term neonates born with lack of oxygen and blood flow to the brain will demonstrate increase in survival without disabilities."

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