UC Davis scientists receive Gates Foundation funding to address global health challenges

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Posted Nov. 16, 2011

Two UC Davis School of Medicine faculty will receive funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent global health and development challenges.

Thomas Jue, professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine, will pursue a project titled “Sialic Acid Supplement for Improved Cognition.” Shirley Luckhart, professor of medical microbiology and immunology, will investigate "Nutritional Intervention for Malaria-induced Non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) Bacteremia."

Thomas Jue © UC Regents
Thomas Jue

Jue and Luckhart's projects are two of 110 Grand Challenges Explorations grants awarded to investigators from 21 countries on Nov. 7. The funded projects show promise in tackling priority health issues where solutions do not yet exist.

"We believe in the power of innovation — that a single bold idea can pioneer solutions to our greatest health and development challenges," said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Grand Challenges Explorations seeks to identify and fund these new ideas wherever they come from, allowing scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs to pursue the kinds of creative ideas and novel approaches that could help to accelerate the end of polio, cure HIV infection or improve sanitation."

Jue, a leading expert in the use of magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy to visualize biochemical processes in living organisms, intends to develop the first viable, non-invasive technique to directly monitor the metabolism of sialic acid, a type of carbohydrate found in mother's milk that plays an important role in newborn brain development and function. The unique imaging capability will enable Jue and colleagues Frederic A. Troy II, a professor emeritus who specializes in sialic acid chemistry, and Youngran Chung, an associate adjunct professor with expertise in intermediary metabolism, to identify sialic acid complexes responsible for cognition and neural development.

Shirley Luckhart © UC Regents
Shirley Luckhart

Luckhart is an internationally recognized malaria expert who specializes in cell signaling and innate immunity related to host-parasite interactions. In collaboration with departmental colleague Associate Professor Renee Tsolis, she is studying the pathology, cell biology and immunology of malaria-NTS co-infection. The new funding will advance her work in developing nutritional supplements to reverse the malaria-induced intestinal damage that contributes to the development of NTS bacteremia in malaria-infected children. Ph.D. candidate Jennifer Chau will lead the hands-on lab work funded by the award.

About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, Grand Challenge Explorations grants have already been awarded to nearly 500 researchers from over 40 countries. 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 $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have an opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million. To learn more about Grand Challenges Explorations, visit www.grandchallenges.org.