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Biodesign Institute earns Grand Challenges Explorations grant for global health, development research

By

Richard Harth

The Biodesign Institute announced that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Timothy Karr, associate professor of research in the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and Center for Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled Rodent Biocontrol and Crop Protection.

“Food quality and crop safety are fundamental requirements for a healthy society,” Karr says. “Because rodents consume significant quantities of harvested crops in rural areas of Africa and other developing countries, we hope to develop a biologically sound and safe vaccination program to reduce rodent populations and reduce or eliminate their impact on crop production and transport to the market.”

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and persistent global health and development challenges. GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to solve the problems people in the developing world face every day. Karr’s project is one of over 80 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

“Investments in innovative global health research are already paying off,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We continue to be impressed by the novelty and innovative spirit of Grand Challenges Explorations projects and are enthusiastic about this exciting research. These investments hold real potential to yield new solutions to improve the health of millions of people in the developing world, and ensure that everyone has the chance to live a healthy productive life.”

To receive funding, Karr and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a creative idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and communications. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10, were accepted through Nov. 7, 2012. 

Karr will develop live bacterial-based contraceptive vaccines that deliver testis- and sperm-specific antigens to sterilize rodent populations that destroy food crops. The project will also develop an oral bait that can safely and effectively introduce these contraceptive vaccines to the pests. Innovation arises from the merging of (i) recently acquired knowledge of the entire suite of protein constituents of sperm (the “sperm proteome”) with (ii) a live bacterial-based delivery system. This creative approach will allow the research group to both choose the most effective immunogens for immunocontraceptive  development, and to effectively deliver them to target populations.

Karr published the first functional genomic and evolutionary analyses of the Drosophila and mouse sperm proteomes.  In 2008 he moved to the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University where he continues to elucidate the functional genomics and biochemistry of the mammalian sperm proteomes.