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University of Otago receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for groundbreaking research in global health and development

Clocktower reflected in the Centre for Innovation

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Sowerby collaborators
Dr Stephen Sowerby (front and centre) and his project collaborators (L-R) Professor John Crump (Centre for International Health), Dr Marion Johnson (Centre for Sustainability), Kate Berard (Research Advisor, Division of Sciences), Professor Philip Hill (Centre for International Health) and Graeme Paltridge (Bacteriology and Parasitology Laboratory, Canterbury Health Laboratories).

The University of Otago announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr Stephen Sowerby, Director of the Applied Science Programme at the University, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Portable soil-transmitted helminth monitoring to combat gastrointestinal parasites”.

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Dr Sowerby’s project is one of over 50 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To receive funding, Dr Sowerby and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of four critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, neglected tropical diseases and communications. Applications for the next Round will be accepted starting September 2013.

Dr Sowerby’s project involves a radically simple cellphone-enabled approach for the quantitative diagnosis of parasitic worms in humans. The approach is based on technology developed in New Zealand for use in the agricultural sector. It is estimated that there are more than one billion cases of human gastrointestinal infections by worms worldwide and that 450 million of these cases cause significant illness, most often in children.

The project involves evaluating a novel fluid cell developed for imaging, identifying and counting the worm eggs in stool. The device is simple to manufacture and allows the transmission of images by cellphone for remote location analysis. This will greatly simplify parasite diagnosis and improve treatment efficacy by minimising unnecessary drug usage. Dr Sowerby will work with colleagues in the University’s Centre for International Health, the company Menixis and elsewhere to validate how well the new approach performs in humans compared to the standard McMaster test.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 800 people in more than 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

For further information, contact

Dr Stephen Sowerby
Director, Applied Science Programme
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 9761
Email stephen.sowerby@otago.ac.nz

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