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Gates Foundation’s latest global health gizmo grant

Sorry, I know alliteration indicates some kind of mental pathology (as does the love of puns) but I couldn’t resist that headline.

Star Trek tricorder

At least I didn’t report this news like my former employer, the Seattle PI, as Canadians, Gates Foundation want a real tricorder. For the six people in the world who don’t know what a ‘tricorder’ is, it’s a futuristic medical device used by the cranky medical officer Bones in the TV show Star Trek to diagnose maladies on the final frontier.

Oh, and the actual news? The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, working in partnership with a Canadian version of the foundation’s Grand Challenges program, has awarded $32 million to 22 research teams to develop new, inexpensive “point-of-care” diagnostic devices.

It’s fairly easy for the media to do stories about fighting disease in poor countries (though we don’t do it enough, as compared to celebrity news or politics). What’s often neglected is the lack of an ability to even know what disease it is you are fighting in the developing world. Is the fever due to malaria or flu? Does this person with HIV also have TB or not?

The need for inexpensive and more reliable disease diagnosis in poor countries is massive.

“New and improved diagnostics to use at the point-of-care can help health workers around the world save countless lives,” said Chris Wilson, Director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Our hope is that these bold ideas lead to affordable, easy-to-use tools that can rapidly diagnose diseases, trigger timelier treatment and thereby reduce death, disability and transmission of infections in resource-poor communities.”

The Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges program was launched to fund high-risk innovative scientific and engineering research aimed at solving problems of disease and poverty in poor countries. Grand Challenges Canada is an independent organization, inspired by the Gates program but funded by the Canadian government to do pretty much the same kind of thing.

Of the 22 research projects awarded by the two organizations, only 10 of the 12 groups funded by the Gates Foundation website appeared to be listed as of this writing. The Canadians also only appear to list a portion of their grantees rather than all of them. I’ve asked for one link listing all 22 but haven’t seen it yet.

Here are three grant recipients highlighted by the Gates Foundation:

  • 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.

Other news stories based on this announcement:

Boston Globe Gates Foundation awards grant to (beantown biotech)

AFP Gates, Canadians offer $32 million for research


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.