Chris Wilson

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Gates Foundation’s next Grand Challenge: Vaccinating Plants | 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has done a lot to boost the science and delivery of vaccines for human health and to assist in the fight against disease.

Now, the Seattle philanthropy would like to start vaccinating crop plants to help poor farmers.

Gates Foundation

Rwandan farmer Odette Mukanyiko

“Not many people realize it but plants have fairly sophisticated immune systems,” said Chris Wilson, director of global health discovery at the Gates Foundation.

Finding new methods to immunize crops against disease and pests, Wilson said, could significantly improve yields for subsistence and smallholder farmers in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. Such an approach could also greatly reduce the need for pesticides, he added, and likely provide greater barrier to bugs developing resistance.

Gates Foundation

Chris Wilson

“This couldn’t really be the same thing as the vaccines we use on ourselves or for animals, but it would be functionally equivalent,” Wilson said. “This will require some novel thinking.”

Looking for more wacky ideas

The Gates Foundation is now accepting proposals from scientists, entrepreneurs and inventors aimed at improving health, reducing poverty and generally making the world a better place. The $100-million-endowed project, which awards $100,000 grants for first-time innovators, is called Grand Challenges Explorations program. Continue reading

Microwaving malaria and the other latest winners of Gates Foundation research grants | 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded its latest set of grants supporting innovative scientific research aimed at solving problems in global health.

The grants, awarded through the Gates Foundation’s $100 million Grand Challenges Exploration program, for this go-round appear to favor novel methods aimed at combating malaria.

Like using microwaves to treat malaria infection. Or using the smell of your feet to mislead mosquitoes.

“Finding solutions to persistent global health problems is a difficult, lengthy and expensive process,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This program, Wilson said, “was designed to tap the innovators of the world by providing resources needed to explore bold ideas that are typically too risky to attract funding through other mechanisms.”

Here’s the press release issued by the Gates Foundation and a story by Donna Blankinship of the Associated Press in Seattle. First-time grant winners get $100,000 to pursue their ideas and if they show promise are eligible to receive up to $1 million for “Phase II” studies.

Three projects, including the one exploring the use (in mice only right now) of microwave irradiation to kill malaria parasites, received Phase II funding, the philanthropy reported. Blankinship asked Wilson about the idea of using microwaves as a malaria treatment. The purpose of Grand Challenges, he emphasized, is to support high-risk — some might even say wacky — ideas.

“That’s probably not going to work,” Wilson said. “But if it did work, it would be pretty stunning.” Continue reading

Gates Foundation funds research into dirt-charged cell phones and other wacky ideas | 

Gates Foundation

Harvard's Erez Lieberman-Aiden and her dirt-powered battery

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Thursday announced the latest winners in one of its more interesting initiatives aimed at stimulating creative, novel solutions to problems in global health.

The project is known as Grand Challenges Explorations and today the philanthropy announced 88 winners of $100,000 grants aimed at supporting unorthodox approaches to health problems afflicting the poor.

“One bold idea is all it takes to catalyze new approaches to global health and development,” said Tachi Yamada, outgoing chief of the global health program at the Gates Foundation.

The Seattle philanthropy was this year especially interested in supporting new — Yamada likes to say “wacky” — ideas aimed at furthering the goal of polio eradication, exploiting the ubiquitous cell phones for use in low-resource communities and reducing the massive health problems caused by inadequate sanitation in poor countries. Continue reading

Bill Gates: Collecting the next round of wacky ideas | 

Flickr, Vicki & Chuck Rogers

Mad Scientist

Why does the Gates Foundation keep funding all those wacky ideas like trying to use infrared light to confuse mosquitoes or manipulating bacterial spores into serving as vaccine delivery modules?

Because they think sometimes it works best to turn the routine scientific review process on its head.

“Science grant applications are usually approved by consensus review,” notes Chris Wilson, director of global health discovery for the Seattle philanthropy. Seeking consensus works to make sure research focuses on what the experts in a field see as the most promising approaches, Wilson says, “But it’s also highly averse to new, innovative and out-of-the-box ideas.”

Bill Gates says he wants out-of-the box ideas. Continue reading