Stanford Report - November 5th, 2008

Three medical school researchers—Mark Davis, Andrew Fire and Christina Smolke—were among the first-round recipients of grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's new Grand Challenges Explorations initiative. The awards, which were announced Oct. 22, are $100,000 each and are intended to promote the exploration of bold and largely unproven ways to improve global health.

Davis, MD, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology, hopes to develop a new method to assess specific T-cell responses to vaccinations. Using combinations of labeled tetramers to identify different types of T-cell responses, he will try to create better assessments of immunity generated by vaccines.

Fire, PhD, professor of pathology and of genetics, will delve deeper into the role of RNA interference as a component of virus infection resistance. He plans to use the grant to help understand better how RNAi can function as a natural antiviral mechanism, and how such analysis can enable the design of antiviral interventions.

Smolke, PhD, who will join the bioengineering faculty in January 2009, will be pursuing research on genetically encoded technologies that support the design of molecular sensing-regulatory systems for targeted disease treatment strategies.

The initial set of Grand Challenges Exploration grants, a total of 104, aim to inject fresh perspective into research for preventing or curing infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and limiting the emergence of drug resistance. Successful applicants showed how their project falls outside current scientific paradigms and could lead to significant advances if successful—in just two pages.

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