May 08, 2009

Bill Gates pours millions into unorthodox health research

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has poured millions of dollars into unorthodox and largely unproven health research that would normally struggle to find funding.

Scientific projects, such as developing an anti-viral tomato, a flu-resistant chicken and a magnet that can detect malaria, will share millions of dollars of grants to support unorthodox thinking — and the outside chance of a world-changing discovery.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest philanthropic foundation in the world, has thrown a lifeline to scores of such projects, awarding eighty-one $100,000 (£65,000) grants designed to encourage scientists to pursue bold ideas that could lead to breakthroughs, the Times Online reported today.

In a radical departure from conventional funding systems, the foundation sought only a two-page application for the first stage award.

Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health programme, said that unconventional approaches were necessary to stir up the thinking on diseases where advances had been slow.

"Some things require a revolution, rather than an evolution, in thinking. The problem is we can be locked into an orthodoxy of thinking that shackles us and prevents us from thinking in novel ways," he was quoted as saying by the British news portal.

Applicants were selected from more than 3,000 proposals, with all levels of scientists represented - from veteran researchers to postgraduates - and a range of disciplines, such as neurobiology, immunology and polymer science.

Dr Yamada said that he and Gates, both members of the review board which comprises scientists and entrepreneurs, accepted that 90 per cent of the projects might fail, and it was possible of an odd charlatan trying to apply for a grant.

"The point is that where there are currently no solutions, we must work hard to find new solutions. We really believe that true innovation is needed. Some of the ideas might seem crazy, but there is a fine line between crazy and absolutely novel," Dr Yamada underlined.

Each grant recipient will also get the chance of follow-on grants of US $ 1 million if their projects show success. The Foundation gave out US $ 2.8 billion last year but the global downturn will impact the fundings, with payouts likely to grow by about 10 percent.

Among the recipients of the Grand Challenges initiative are three British scientific teams pursuing novel approaches to prevent and treat infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and pneumonia, as well as viruses such as HIV.

"These are projects that are examples of high-risk research, in the sense that the outcome is less certain," said Professor Dickson, a leader of a British project that would receive funds.

Link: Original Article

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