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Four Indian research ideas get Gates grant

Each award carries Rs 45.5 lakh; Matured ideas get 10 times more

A vaccine for Malaria; liver ultrasound to predict malaria relapse; cure for HIV/AIDS and an electronic nose to conduct breath samples on tuberculosis patients.

They are four research ideas from India that have won Rs 45.5 lakh grant each from the Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Yet, such a massive grant has few takers in India whereas Bangladesh is much more enthusiastic to participate in the challenge. 

The volume of applications from India is not up to the expectation due to lack of awareness, believes GEC head Dr Yun-Ling Wong. Dr Wong, who was in the City on Wednesday, said that while 130 applications were received from India so far, Bangladesh alone had sent 120 applications. 

“Bangladesh is a much smaller country than India, but the number of applications are almost the same,” she said. 

On a visit
Wong is visiting four cities including Bangalore to encourage and speak about the programme, as she believes a lot of innovations and research training happens in these cities.

The ambitious project, which is in its sixth round, is focused on innovative health research ideas from anyone anywhere, especially from developing countries. 

Four projects
The four projects – two from International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology in Delhi, one from Vivekananda International Health Centre in Kolkata and one from Pondicherry Biotech Pvt Ltd – are some of the initiatives selected in the fifth round of GEC i.e. six months ago. What’s more, the initial grant is just to see whether the idea will work out!

Dr Wong explains that the purpose of the initiative is to encourage youngsters from any disciple to come up with innovative solutions for some of the persistent health problems in the world. 

“There is a lot of enthusiasm among people but we are realising that many people are not aware of GEC or feel that it is only eligible for it. But anyone can apply, as the grants are giving on the merit of the idea and not the person’s name, title or organisation. We are trying to encourage people to make a difference locally,” she said. 

She added that some of the topics in this round like sanitation, cell phone application for healthcare and maternal and neonatal health would be of great importance and relevance to India. 

How does it work?
Dr Wong explained that people need to first submit their ideas and then write how they would utilise Rs 45.5 lakh. The Foundation staff select the applications by the end of January, and by March the funds are mobilised. “The grant money is sent immediately so that the applicants don’t lose time,” she said. 

After this, GEC team evaluates the progress of the idea twice a year. The selected applicants are given 18 months experiment and work out their ideas. Then they are asked to submit proposal for the next grant of Rs 4.55 crores. The quality check starts once the second grant kicks in, Wong said. 

Questioned about the risk rate, she said that as the first set of grants were given 18 months ago, it was possible to calculate the percentage of failed ideas after six months. About 340 researchers from 34 countries have won the grant, 40 from developing countries.

Dr Wong said that GEC would conduct 10 rounds spanning five years and will continue to support researches that show promise. The last date to submit applications for sixth round is November 2. 

(Published in Deccan Herald on 22nd September, 2010)

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