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Case and UHC TB researchers part of group getting $13.1 million grant from Gates Foundation

Tuberculosis researchers from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals of Cleveland have received funding from the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, a major effort to achieve scientific breakthroughs against diseases that kill millions of people each year in the world's poorest countries. Case is one of 15 institutions comprising a consortium led by the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Germany. The consortium received $13.1 million over five years. The Case group is led by Henry Boom, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the tuberculosis research unit at Case and UHC, and Chris Whalen, M.D., associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics.

Case and its partners will work to identify immune system differences between people who are exposed to tuberculosis and never become sick compared with those who develop serious disease. The researchers will focus particular attention on people infected with both TB and HIV in Africa. The study results could help guide the design and testing of new TB vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics, especially in areas with high HIV infection rates.

The consortium also includes Case's research colleagues headed by Prof. Roy Mugerwa at Makerere University in Uganda. The medical school has been conducting research on TB and HIV since 1987. The only other U.S. school in this consortium is Stanford University. Other institutions are from the Netherlands and Denmark.

"These studies integrate advanced immunology and microbiology with field epidemiology studies of how TB is transmitted and causes disease," said Boom. "The Gates grant brings together researchers in six African countries with researchers in the United States and Europe to tackle the dual TB and HIV epidemics. It provides the opportunity to apply what has been learned about the immunology of TB in Uganda to other African countries and apply new knowledge to ongoing research efforts in Uganda."

The funding received by Case and its partners is one of 43 grants totaling $436.6 million announced by the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to create "deliverable technologies" ^ health tools that are not only effective, but also inexpensive to produce, easy to distribute, and simple to use in developing countries.

The initiative is supported by a $450 million commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as two new funding commitments: $27.1 million from the Wellcome Trust, and $4.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The initiative is managed by global health experts at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and CIHR. Additional proposed Grand Challenges projects are under review and may be awarded grants later this year.

The Grand Challenges initiative was launched by the Gates Foundation in 2003, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, with a $200 million grant to the FNIH to help apply innovation in science and technology to the greatest health problems of the developing world. Of the billions spent each year on research into life-saving medicines, only a small fraction is focused on discovering and developing new tools to fight the diseases that cause millions of deaths each year in developing countries.

"It's shocking how little research is directed toward the diseases of the world's poorest countries," said Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and chairman of the computer software company Microsoft. "By harnessing the world's capacity for scientific innovation, I believe we can transform health in the developing world and save millions of lives."

Each of the 43 projects seeks to tackle one of 14 major scientific challenges that, if solved, could lead to important advances in preventing, treating, and curing diseases of the developing world. The 14 Grand Challenges, which were identified from among more than 1,000 suggestions from scientists and health experts around the world, address the following goals:

Developing improved childhood vaccines that do not require refrigeration, needles, or multiple doses, in order to improve immunization rates in developing countries, where each year 27 million children do not receive basic immunizations

Studying the immune system to guide the development of new vaccines, including vaccines to prevent malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV, which together kill more than 5 million people each year

Developing new ways of preventing insects from transmitting diseases such as malaria, which infects 350-500 million people every year

Growing more nutritious staple crops to combat malnutrition, which affects more than 2 billion people worldwide

Discovering ways to prevent drug resistance because many drugs that were once successful at treating diseases like malaria are losing their effectiveness

Discovering methods to treat latent and chronic infections such as tuberculosis, which nearly a third of the world's population harbors in their bodies

More accurately diagnosing and tracking disease in poor countries that do not have sophisticated laboratories or reliable medical recordkeeping systems

Following the publication of the Grand Challenges in October 2003, more than 1,500 research projects were proposed by scientists in 75 countries.

"We were overwhelmed by the scientific community's response to the Grand Challenges. Clearly, there's tremendous untapped potential among the world's scientists to address diseases of the developing world," said Nobel laureate Dr. Harold Varmus, chair of the international scientific board that guides the Grand Challenges initiative. Varmus is president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and former director of the National Institutes of Health.

"Science has revolutionized health in wealthy countries, while developing countries have been left to fight disease with only a handful of tools that are either grossly inadequate or far too expensive for widespread use," said Dr. Nirmal Kumar Ganguly, a member of the Grand Challenges scientific board and director-general of the Indian Council for Medical Research. "The Grand Challenges initiative has provided the resources needed to bring together top scientists in both developed and developing countries to help address this imbalance."

The 43 Grand Challenges projects will support cutting-edge research managed by teams of scientists working in partnership across disciplines, with researchers from the developing world and private industry as integral partners in many projects. Many of the initiatives include leaders from fields such as chemistry, engineering, statistics, and business, who have never before focused on global health. While many of the Grand Challenges projects seek to improve on existing technologies, others attempt to develop entirely new approaches.

 

About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work. http://www.case.edu.