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Investigating anti-dengue proteins and testing dietary supplements for children with diarrhoea are among 105 projects that have received grants to explore uncharted areas in health research.

The funding — US$100,000 for each project — was announced last month (22 October) as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's 'Grand Challenges Explorations' initiative, which aims to encourage innovative ideas in health research.

The initiative, an expansion of the Grand Challenges in Global Health programme, is a five-year, US$100 million funding scheme targeting early stage research to help scientists quickly establish the viability of their idea.

Applications are limited to two pages, and no early data is required — a model that could be better suited to developing world scientists who are often overwhelmed by the lengthy and sometimes arduous process of applying for large grants.

"The application process is very simple and I think that has helped a lot because we usually have a lot of problems going for grants as English is not our first language," Pattamaporn Kittayapong, an associate professor at Thailand's Mahidol University, told The Financial Times.

Kittayapong won a grant to look for anti-dengue proteins that might be produced when mosquitoes are co-infected with the dengue virus and its bacteria Wolbachia. Such proteins could potentially be used as an antiviral therapy for dengue.

She told SciDev.Net that it would have been difficult to get another source of funding for the research because "it is an unproven idea".

This round's awardees come from 22 countries in five continents, with just under 10 per cent awarded to researchers in developing countries. 

"The Grand Challenges Explorations grants were developed to lower the barriers to funding for anyone with a transformative idea for global health. One of our primary objectives is to involve scientists around the world who don't typically work in global health — this includes innovators in Africa, Asia and other parts of the developing world," says Andrew Serazin, programme officer at the Gates Foundation's Global Health Discovery.

Nur Alam, a researcher at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh, received a grant to test whether supplementing the hospital diet of children admitted for diarrhoea with vitamin D and amino acid L-isoleucine would improve their recovery.

He says global health research is often guided by disease burden and economic factors, which "rarely help with creativity", but the initiative could help promote creativity and lead to breakthrough research.

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