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Vanderbilt University receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for innovative global health research by Guirong Wang

May. 5, 2009, 11:13 AM

Vanderbilt University announced today that it has received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by Senior Research Associate Guirong Wang, titled “Targeting TRP Channel Heat Receptors to Disrupt Anopheles gambiae Host Seeking.”

Wang’s project is one of 81 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the second funding round of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help scientists around the world explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve health in developing countries. The grants were provided to scientists in 17 countries on six continents.

To receive funding Wang showed in a two-page application how his idea falls outside current scientific paradigms and might lead to significant advances in global health. The initiative is highly competitive, receiving more than 3,000 proposals in this round.

Wang’s idea is based on the fact that female Anopheles mosquitoes become heat-seeking missiles as they close in on a human target: They rely heavily on an ability to detect the heat to of their warm-blooded prey. So his proposal is to identify the thermal detectors on the female malaria mosquito’s antennae, find chemical compounds that either block or over-stimulate them and determine whether any of these compounds can be used as tools to eradicate malaria. Wang is a key member of the research team of Professor of Biological Sciences Laurence Zwiebel that has been studying the malaria mosquito’s sense of smell since 2005 with a Gates Foundation Grand Challenges to Global Health grant. The object of the project is to interfere with the Anopheles’ ability to find prey by interfering with their sense of smell.

Although the sense of smell is the mosquito’s primary method for locating prey, its thermal sense plays an extremely important role in its target-acquisition ability. “The two capabilities work together synergistically to increase the mosquito’s efficiency,” Wang explained. In his independent research Wang found the mosquito’s version of a gene known to code for a thermal receptor in the fruit fly Drosophila and showed that it is expressed at the tip of the female mosquito’s antennae. With the Gates’ grant, he will begin working full time on the heat-seeking project. The first step will be to identify and characterize the heat receptors and the second will be to identify small molecules that disrupt them. Based on the researchers’ experience in the olfactory project, Wang estimates that they should be able to screen about 10,000 compounds and identify 10 to 20 chemicals with promising disruptive properties in the 12 months that the grant lasts.

“The winners of these grants are doing truly exciting and innovative work,” said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program. “I’m optimistic that some of these exploratory projects will lead to life-saving breakthroughs for people in the world’s poorest countries.”

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a five-year, $100 million initiative of the Gates Foundation to promote innovation in global health. The program uses an agile, streamlined grant process – applications are limited to two pages, and preliminary data are not required. Proposals are reviewed and selected by a committee of foundation staff and external experts, and grant decisions are made within approximately three months of the close of the funding round.

Applications for the next round of Grand Challenges Explorations are being accepted through May 28, 2009. Grant application instructions, including the list of topic areas in which proposals are currently being accepted, are available at the Grand Challenges Explorations website.

Media Contact: David F. Salisbury, (615) 322-NEWS

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