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U-M researcher receives Grand Challenges Explorations grant for research in global health

ANN ARBOR, Mich. A University of Michigan Health System researcher is among the winners of a Grand Challenges Explorations grant, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gabriel Nunez, M.D., the Paul H. de Kruif Professor of Pathology in the U-M Medical School, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project designed to find new treatments for bacterial infections of the gut that sicken millions of people each year.

“This is significant clinical problem in the developing world, and causes occasional outbreaks due to contaminated food in the developed world,” says Nunez. “There is no therapy for diarrheal disease caused by enteropathogenic E. coli bacteria, but this grant will help us test a promising approach in animals that we hope will eventually be used in humans.”

Grand Challenges Explorations funds individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and persistent global health and development challenges. GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to solve the problems people in the developing world face every day.

Nunez’s project is one of over 80 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

“Investments in innovative global health research are already paying off,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We continue to be impressed by the novelty and innovative spirit of Grand Challenges Explorations projects and are enthusiastic about this exciting research. These investments hold real potential to yield new solutions to improve the health of millions of people in the developing world, and ensure that everyone has the chance to live a healthy productive life.”

To receive funding, Nunez and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a creative idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and communications. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10, will be accepted through November 7, 2012. 

Nunez’s work on bacteria that invade the gut focuses on competition between the naturally occurring, or commensal, bacteria that live in the intestinal tract, and invading pathogens.

Earlier this year, he and his team published important new evidence about key “virulence factors” that allow bacteria such as E. coli to out-compete commensal bacteria and cause diarrhea that can be life-threatening.  Enteropathogenic E. coli is a major cause of illness, and childhood death, in developing countries where food and water supplies are contaminated. 

The new research will test whether they can prevent disease by delivering into the gut certain antibodies designed to bind to the active site on a protein on the pathogen’s cell surface. By blocking the action of the protein called intimin, the scientists hope to keep pathogens from attaching to the lining of the gut, or epithelium, where they can out-compete commensal bacteria for food and reproduce. Working in mice, the researchers will see if the antibodies can be effective – and escape being degraded by the gut’s harsh environment – if delivered orally or rectally. 

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, over 700 people in 45 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.

For more about Nunez’s work, see


Adapted from a press release by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


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