News Release: Research, School of Medicine

May 4,  2009

Emory Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Innovative Global Health Research

Emory University School of Medicine 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 Principal Investigator Richard Dr. Cummings, PhD, William Patterson Timmie professor and chair of biochemistry at Emory University School of Medicine and colleagues Carlos Rivera-Marrero, PhD, and David F. Smith, PhD. The Emory project is titled "Development of a Glycan-peptide Vaccine for Tuberculosis."

The Emory project is one of 81 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the second 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 17 countries on six continents.

To receive funding, Cummings and colleagues showed how their idea falls outside current scientific paradigms and might lead to significant advances in global health. The initiative is highly competitive, receiving more than 3,000 proposals in this round.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tuberculosis is the leading cause of death worldwide due to an infectious disease, and it is estimated that one third of the world's population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), with about nine million new cases per year and two million deaths. This major health problem is further aggravated by the HIV epidemic and the emergence of multidrug drug-resistance (MDR) strains. Treatment for TB can be effective, but poor patient compliance commonly leads to clinical relapse and to the emergence of drug resistance.

"One of the top priorities in TB research is the development of a highly effective vaccine," says Cummings. "I anticipate that during the one-year exploratory funding period we will make great progress and that new discoveries will be of tremendous impact in the identification of new glycan (carbohydrate) targets and development of a TB vaccine."

Cummings' team will be studying the role of glycans of the cell envelope of mycobacteria in immunity. They will develop high-throughput natural glycan microarrays using glycans from Mtb, identifying the most important glycans recognized by sera of infected individuals, and defining their structure for future development of glycan-peptide vaccine candidates.

Smith and Cummings direct the Glycomics Center in the Department of Biochemistry in Emory University School of Medicine. The Glycomics Center also is affiliated with the Core H Facility of the Consortium for Functional Glycomics, funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

"The winners of these grants are doing truly exciting and innovative work," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program.  "I'm optimistic that some of these exploratory projects will lead to life-saving breakthroughs for people in the world's poorest countries."

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 next round of Grand Challenges Explorations are being accepted through May 28, 2009.  Grant application instructions, including the list of topic areas in which proposals are currently being accepted, are available at the Grand Challenges Explorations website.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include schools of medicine, nursing, and public health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.3 billion budget, 17,000 employees, 2,300 full-time and 1,900 affiliated faculty, 4,300 students and trainees, and a $4.9 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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