A Diagnostics & Imaging Week

Diagnostics company Nanogen (San Diego) and three partners from academia, biotech and nonprofit healthcare sectors received some of the more than $435 million dollars the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is giving to researchers answering a challenge for groundbreaking research to battle preventable diseases in developing countries.

Nanogen, the University of Washington's department of bioengineering, nonprofit organization PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health; Seattle) and device maker Micronics (Redmond, Washington) have been awarded a $15.4 million grant by the Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative to develop portable devices for diagnosing infectious diseases such as malaria, influenza, typhoid and others.

The Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, an effort to achieve scientific breakthroughs against diseases that kill millions of people each year in the world's poorest countries, has offered 43 grants totaling $436.6 million for a range of innovative research projects involving scientists in 33 countries. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to create "deliverable technologies" — health tools that are not only effective, but also inexpensive to produce, easy to distribute, and simple to use in developing countries.

The initiative is supported by a $450 million commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as two new funding commitments — $27.1 million from the Wellcome Trust and $4.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The initiative is managed by global health experts at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH; Bethesda, Maryland), the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and CIHR. Additional proposed Grand Challenges projects are under review and may be awarded grants later this year.

The Grand Challenges initiative was launched by the Gates Foundation in 2003, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, with a $200 million grant to the FNIH to help apply innovation in science and technology to the greatest health problems of the developing world. The sponsoring organizations say that of the billions spent each year on research into life-saving medicines, only a small fraction is focused on discovering and developing new tools to fight the diseases that cause millions of deaths each year in developing countries.

Each of the 43 projects seeks to tackle one of 14 major scientific challenges that, if solved, could lead to important advances in preventing, treating, and curing diseases of the developing world. The 14 Grand Challenges, which were identified from among more than 1,000 suggestions from scientists and health experts around the world, address goals such as developing improved childhood vaccines that do not require refrigeration, needles, or multiple doses, in order to improve immunization rates in developing countries, where each year 27 million children do not receive basic immunizations. It also would include studying the immune system to guide the development of new vaccines, including vaccines to prevent malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV, which together kill more than 5 million people each year.

The initiative also involves coming up with new HIV vaccine strategies and developing diagnostics for the developing world.

In other grants/contracts news:

IRIS International (Chatsworth, California), a manufacturer of automated IVD urinalysis systems and medical devices used in hospitals and reference clinical laboratories worldwide, reported that its Advanced Digital Imaging Research (ADIR; Houston) subsidiary has been awarded a $100,000 research grant from the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Maryland) for "Low-Cost Automated Urinalysis Using Spectral Data."

Under the Small Business Innovative Research Phase 1 grant, ADIR will seek to develop improved techniques that will enable IRIS to identify, with improved precision, the particles present in urine samples.

"Urine microscopy has traditionally used bright field imaging, which is insensitive to subtle spectral information not readily discernable by the human eye," said Dr. Kenneth Castleman, president of ADIR. "Our research in quantitative spectral analysis of urine particles goes beyond using qualitative color information to significantly improve the ability of our instruments to subclassify the different types of particles found in the urine."

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston) reported that it has purchased another film-based Second Look system from iCAD (Nashua, New Hampshire), a provider of computer-aided detection (CAD) solutions for the early identification of cancer. The new system, which has been installed in its Brookline imaging clinic, complements the film and digital Second Look systems being used in the main Beth Israel Deaconess facility located in downtown Boston.

According to the American Cancer Society (Atlanta), it is estimated that nearly 5,000 new cases of female breast cancer will be diagnosed this year in Massachusetts alone and more than 900 women will die as a result of breast cancer in the bay state in 2005. Early detection of breast cancer can save lives and often permits less costly and less-invasive cancer treatment options than when detected at a later stage.

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