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May 10, 2010

Bloomberg School of Public Health Receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Innovative Global Health Research

mosquito

This mosquito is infected with GFP-expressing AgDNV, which  gives it a green glowing appearance.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announced today that it has received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by Jason Rasgon, PhD, an assistant professor with the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, and his research to develop an evolution-proof pesticide for eliminating mosquitoes that transmit malaria to humans.

Rasgon’s project is one of 78 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the fourth funding round of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help scientists around the world explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve health in developing countries. The grants were provided to scientists in 18 countries on six continents.

To receive funding, Rasgon showed in a two-page application how his idea falls outside current scientific paradigms and might lead to significant advances in global health. The initiative is highly competitive, receiving almost 2,700 proposals in this round.

Rasgon’s work towards developing an evolution-proof pesticide for mosquitoes builds upon his earlier research. In 2008, he and his colleagues identified the virus AgDNV, a previously unknown mosquito virus that is infectious to Anopheles gambiae—the mosquito primarily responsible for transmitting malaria to humans.

According to Rasgon, the virus could be potentially altered to deliver genes that would kill An. gambiae or make the mosquito incapable of transmitting malaria. In earlier tests of the concept, Rasgon and his research team successfully used altered AgDNV to express harmless green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the adult mosquitoes, which could be easily spotted under the microscope.

“Our latest research will focus on using the virus to instruct the mosquito to die after approximately 10 days, which is shorter than the time it takes for it to transmit the malaria parasite to humans,” explained Rasgon. “Unlike traditional insecticides that kill instantly, an AgDNV-based insecticide could give the mosquitoes time to reproduce, which would make it less likely for resistance to evolve. Resistance to insecticides is a big problem for control of vector-borne diseases such as malaria.”

“The winners of these grants show the bold thinking we need to tackle some of the world’s greatest health challenges,” said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program. “I’m excited about their ideas and look forward to seeing some of these exploratory projects turn into lifesaving breakthroughs.”

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a five-year, $100 million initiative of the Gates Foundation to promote innovation in global health. The program uses an agile, streamlined grant process – applications are limited to two pages, and preliminary data are not required. Proposals are reviewed and selected by a committee of foundation staff and external experts, and grant decisions are made within approximately three months of the close of the funding round.

Applications for the current round of Grand Challenges Explorations are being accepted through May 19, 2010. Grant application instructions, including the list of topics for which proposals are currently being accepted, are available at www.grandchallenges.org/explorations.

About Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute

Founded at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2001, the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute (JHMRI) is a state-of-the-art malaria research facility which is dedicated to the search for medical and scientific breakthroughs in malaria prevention and treatment by advancing basic science along every stage of the malaria parasite lifecycle. For more information, visit http://malaria.jhsph.edu.

About Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

As a leading international authority on public health, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is dedicated to protecting health and saving lives. Every day, the School works to keep millions safe from illness and injury by pioneering new research, deploying its knowledge and expertise in the field, and educating tomorrow’s scientists and practitioners in the global defense of human life. For more information, visit www.jhsph.edu.

Public Affairs media contact for JHSPH: Tim Parsons at 410-955-7619 or tmparson@jhsph.edu.

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