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UCL Engineering Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Funding

11 May 2012

Gambia children

UCL Engineering announced today that two members of staff will receive funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables individuals worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent health and development challenges.

Dr Tarit Mukhopadhyay and Professor Clare Elwell will pursue their innovative global health research projects, titled ‘Elimination of the Cold Chain with Low-Cost Liquid Viral Vaccines’ and ‘Novel Biomarkers of Nutrition Related Cognitive Development’.

Grand Challenges Explorations funds scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Dr Mukhopadhyay’s and Professor Elwell’s projects are two of over 100 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We’re excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea towards global impact.”

Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed

Dr Chris Wilson (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9, will be accepted through May 15, 2012.

Dr Mukhopadhyay (UCL Biochemical Engineering) and his collaborator Dr. Stephen Ward (Stabilitech Ltd.) are receiving funding to couple UCL’s vaccine bioprocess development platform with a novel Stabilitech technology to create thermo-stable viral vaccines. Most of the world’s vaccines are centrally manufactured and are refrigerated in the cold chain during delivery and storage before use. However, the cold chain frequently fails, meaning that millions of doses of vaccines are wasted each year.

The team’s goal is to create vaccines that can withstand the harsh extremes of heat and cold, and in doing so reduce the waste, cost and delay in immunisation programmes. If successful it will save countless lives from vaccine preventable deaths.

Professor Elwell (UCL Medical Physics and Bioengineering) proposes to use a novel non-invasive optical brain imaging technology to study cognitive function in malnourished infants and children. If successful, this approach could be used to determine the impact of malnutrition on the developing brain and guide nutrition-related interventions.

The portable, non invasive, low cost optical imaging device they propose to use in this project has applications in a range of other areas where technically complex, expensive laboratory based imaging (e.g. MRI) is not possible. For example, they are currently using optical devices to monitor muscle oxygenation in athletes training for the Olympics, to provide bedside clinical markers of brain damage in premature babies, to characterize the effects of cerebral malaria and to investigate early signs of autism in four month old infants.

They are particularly excited about the future prospects for optical imaging and hope that the pilot studies planned in the Gambia will provide a unique opportunity to acquire neuroimaging data not otherwise available in a resource-poor setting.

Image: Professor Elwell's team are using a novel non-invasive optical brain imaging technology to study cognitive function in malnourished infants and children in the Gambia.


Links:

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Grand Challenges Explorations

UCL Engineering