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Seattle Children’s Research Institute Receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Innovative Global Health Research

November 12, 2010

Grant will support a Seattle Children's Research Institute global health project

Seattle Children’s Research Institute announced today that it has received a US$100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by Charles V. Smith, Ph.D., director of the Center for Developmental Therapeutics of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, titled “Cheap, Practical Surfactant Therapy for Premature Infants.”

Smith’s project is one of 65 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the fifth 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 16 countries on 5 continents.

To receive funding, Dr. Smith 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 2,400 proposals in this round.

The survival rate of infants born prematurely has increased dramatically in recent years, largely through wider use of prenatal corticosteroids to accelerate fetal lung maturation, improvements in respiratory support provided to preterm infants, and increased administration of pulmonary surfactant (a soap-like material that is produced in the lungs in healthy infants, but is commonly lacking in babies born preterm) to improve lung function.  Infants born prematurely in developing countries generally do not receive surfactant when they need it, primarily because of high costs associated with commercially available surfactants.  The goal of Dr. Smith’s research is to produce an effective and practical pulmonary surfactant that can be formulated from materials costing less than US $5 per dose, as opposed to the $400 to $750 per dose, or more, for surfactants presently available commercially.  This inexpensive surfactant will enable health care workers in developing countries to provide premature newborns with a potentially lifesaving drug at a reasonable cost, while reducing the incidence of chronic lung disease and long term morbidity in these fragile infants. 

“These are bold ideas from innovative thinkers, which is exactly what we need in global health research right now,” said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program.  “I'm excited to see some of these daring projects develop into life-saving breakthroughs for those who need them the most.”

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.

The next round of Grand Challenges Explorations will open in March 2011.  More information, including grant application instructions and a list of topics for which proposals will be accepted, will be available at www.grandchallenges.org/explorations.

About Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention and bioethics, among others. As part of Seattle Children’s Hospital, the research institute brings together leading minds in pediatric research to provide patients with the best care possible. Seattle Children’s serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, which consistently ranks as one of the best pediatric departments in the country. For more information, visit http://www.seattlechildrens.org/research.

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