Queen's University Belfast scientists awarded research grants to tackle tropical diseases

Queen's University Belfast has been announced as a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Scientists at the University's Institute for Global Food Security have been awarded grants to pursue two Innovative global health and development research projects aimed at tackling tropical diseases.

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mould in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. The Queen's projects are among the Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10 grants announced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

To receive funding Queen's, 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. 

The Queen's Grand Challenges Explorations winners are striving to develop new approaches to help poor and underprivileged people who suffer from the impact of neglected tropical diseases. These diseases are prevalent in developing countries, where they condemn the poorest people on the planet to a lifetime of poverty and ill health. The Grand Challenges Explorations grants will help Queen's scientists to develop new methods of disease detection and treatment.   

Dr Paul McVeigh's project aims to develop new ways to diagnose Lymphatic Filariasis, a tropical disease affecting more than 120 million people in 73 developing countries. The condition is caused by a parasitic worm and is usually transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito.  The worms live in the body's lymphatic  system, leading to severe disfigurement of the limbs, chronic pain and disability. Very little research has been carried out into the condition and current diagnostic tests are limited and often involve a painful method of collecting samples from patients. Dr McVeigh's team will use the $100,000 awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to investigate the usefulness of MicroRNAs - molecules found in blood, saliva, urine and breastmilk - as indicators of the presence of the infection. This has the potential to lead to the development of faster, more reliable, non-invasive diagnostic tests.

Dr Johnathan Dalzell will lead a $100,000 project to develop food crops containing drugs to treat neglected tropical diseases such as elephantiasis and trypanosomiasis. When humans eat the crop, the drug will circulate in their blood and be passed to blood-borne parasites and blood-feeding insects like mosquitoes, killing them and helping control the diseases that they spread, such as malaria and the many tick-borne diseases that can have a devastating impact on people and livestock. As well as generating an entirely new way of simultaneously treating tropical diseases and the insects that carry them, this approach would also lead to huge financial savings in terms of drug discovery costs, and the storage and delivery of medicines on a global scale.

The Queen's Grand Challenges Explorations winners are based at the Institute for Global Food Security, a £33 million centre established to improve global food safety and play a key role in national and global efforts to provide the world's growing population with a sustainable, safe and secure supply of high quality food. The Institute is preparing to host the Second Food Integrity and Traceability Conference in April 2014, which will showcase the latest developments in delivering safe and authentic food to consumers around the world.

Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute at Queen's, said: "The Institute for Global Food Security is committed to research that aims to improve the safety of food worldwide. This is central to our efforts to build a global 'food fortress', ensuring that people around the globe - whether in developed or developing countries - have access to safe and authentic food. The food borne and tropical diseases that our Grand Challenges Explorations winners are researching affect millions of people across the developing world. By tackling these diseases, and the scourge of parasites, we can have a real impact on the lives of some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people."

Source: http://www.qub.ac.uk/home/ceao/

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