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Freshman Researchers Receive Grand Challenges Explorations Grant

Freshman Researchers Receive Grand Challenges Explorations Grant

University of Texas at Austin freshmen, working to develop do-it-yourself health care diagnostics, make up a research group that was announced today as a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, through an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Riedel-student-DiY-diagnostics-crop_20150609-163334_1.jpgAndy Ellington, a professor of molecular biosciences, and Tim Riedel, a research educator, will work with a team of undergraduates participating in the Freshman Research Initiative to advance an innovative global health and development research project titled "Detecting Pathogens in Mosquitos with Pregnancy Test Strips."

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in solving persistent global health and development challenges. Ellington's project is one of more than 50 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 14 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To receive funding, the investigate team, which included freshmen participating in the work, 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 will be accepting applications for the next GCE round in September 2015.

For the UT Austin project, Ellington, Riedel and the undergraduate researchers will create diagnostics to test mosquitos for blood-borne pathogens such as malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya virus. Public health experts believe that controlling these diseases in the future may depend on whether better, more affordable ways of knowing whether mosquitos trapped in a given area are carrying an infection.

The proposal relies on a new device that will use new molecular technology, together with a common pregnancy test and a simple mosquito-processing tool from Austin-based Paratus Diagnostics, founded by Dr. John Carrano. The device is designed to quickly and immediately determine whether a dead mosquito carried malaria or another disease before it was trapped. If a pathogen is detected, the technology produces a strong chemical signal in response to the pathogen's DNA. This signal is then converted into a hormone that leads to a positive pregnancy test result. In this way, the device would correctly interpret the chemical signal from the diagnostic to clearly report either the presence or absence of malaria or another infection.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 1,100 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 $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.

About the Freshman Research Initiative

The Freshman Research Initiative in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin offers first-year students the opportunity to initiate and engage in authentic research experiences with faculty members in the college. It is the largest program of its kind in the country and has been found to lead to higher GPAs, greater likelihood of post-college education and a doubling of students' chances of graduating with a STEM degree.

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Thursday, 11 August 2022

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