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South African scientists say they will rise to the challenge set by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pursue innovative research to resolve the world's worst health crises.

The foundation launched a new arm of its Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative this month (9 October), announcing in Cape Town that they will make US$100 million available for exploratory research under a new programme called Grand Challenges Explorations.

The new initiative will offer fast-track grants to scientists from a wide range of disciplines, with an emphasis on early-stage research projects that could lead to new vaccines, drugs and other technologies.

Kit Vaughan, deputy dean for research at the University of Cape Town's Faculty of Health Sciences, told SciDev.Net, "We are excited by the announcement and believe that members of our faculty are well placed to compete for these grants."


Vaughan cited candidate projects from the faculty including an automated microscope for diagnosing tuberculosis and an electrocardiograph system based on bluetooth and mobile phone technology to remotely monitor patients with cardiac disease.

"We are encouraged that these funds will support innovative science and that the application process will be relatively straightforward," he said.

Riana Coetsee, coordinator for international research funding at Stellenbosch University in South Africa's Western Cape province, said she is confident that the university will also make several applications.

Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's global health programme, said that the initiative will draw on bright minds outside the medical world, such as physicists and engineers, and that "less traditional" and "off centre" thinking is required, according to the Johannesburg newspaper Business Day.

HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria were highlighted as research areas that needed innovative thought. The Gates Foundation intends to grant US$100,000 at a time and will also require far less paperwork from scientists making application for the money.

Yamada said Bill Gates had suggested that new ideas in biomedicine had been limited to a small group of minds and that "we need to reach more", particularly scientists in Africa and Asia.