Georgia Institute of Technology receives Grand Challenges Explorations grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. J. Carson Meredith, professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Pollen-Based Assays of Intestinal Mucus Water Content and Rheology.”

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. Meredith’s project is one of more than 60 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

To receive funding, Dr. Meredith and other Grand Challenges Explorations winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas. The foundation is accepting applications for the current GCE round until November 12, 2014 11:30 AM PDT.

Dr. Meredith’s work will focus on developing a rapid and low-cost diagnostic for childhood enteric disease, such as diarrhea. These diseases are a worldwide problem and leading cause of childhood mortality. Treating these diseases is difficult because predicting how the intestinal mucus layer of children will behave under stress is a challenge for researchers because intestinal tracts of children are quite different from adults. That mucus layer is critical to absorbing nutrients. If it’s damaged by disease, it won’t function as well, and can lead to endemic gastrointestinal disease. Meredith has proposed a novel, low-cost method to test the health of the mucus lining in children, by using both natural and synthetic pollen particles.

“Nature provides great sources of complex microparticles that can be adapted for engineering applications,” Meredith said. “Pollen grains are covered with unique nanoscale spines that I believe will make them excellent, but inexpensive sensors of mucus function.”

Pollen is sticky, edible, can survive in harsh environments, and has a wide variety of spiny appendages, sizes and shapes. The first step of Meredith’s work will be to characterize how fast different synthetic pollen shells travel through viscous liquids that simulate what’s inside the inside of the gut. This part of the work will involve collaboration with Dr. Victor Breedveld, also a ChBE faculty member.  

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 1070 projects in more than 60 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.

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