Historic ‘Grand Challenge’ launched: Create low-cost devices for rapid disease diagnosis

Grand Challenges Canada, Toronto


Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invest almost $32 million in the discovery and development of new and improved diagnostics at point-of-care

Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have teamed up on an unprecedented global effort to discover and develop affordable, easy-to-use tools to help developing country health workers rapidly diagnose diseases in rural communities. The expected result: more timely and appropriate treatment of illnesses in poor countries, potentially saving countless lives.

“Imagine a hand-held, battery-powered device that can take a drop of blood and, within minutes, tell a healthcare worker in a remote village whether a feverish child has malaria, dengue or a bacterial infection,” says Peter A. Singer, MD, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada. “More rapid diagnosis of malaria alone could prevent 100,000 deaths a year. We believe this and other life-saving opportunities are within our reach.”

The five research areas of this Grand Challenge break the diagnostic problem down into its component parts: Draw blood (or other biological sample) and prep it for analysis, analyze the sample to identify disease, develop the technologies to obtain and transmit data and receive back results, and ensure the device will work in the field where there is often no electricity or refrigeration.

“The project is analogous to software developers creating new apps for smart phones and tablet computers,” says Rebecca Lackman, PhD, Grand Challenges Canada Program Officer for Diagnostics. “Researchers have accepted the challenge to create novel sampling and testing systems that can be plugged into a standardized analyzer that can test for malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and a variety of tropical diseases. The ‘Integrated Innovation’ approach means they will also investigate the social and business innovations needed for successful product delivery and use.”

“This initiative is unique in many respects: it will allow health workers to identify multiple diseases and pathogens from one patient specimen; plug-and-play platforms will allow best-in-class components to be developed and integrated in a diagnostic device; and we are creating a common application platform; thereby, reducing both commercialization costs and regulatory issues, making it more attractive for industry to invest in diagnostics for global health.”

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