November 2015 | Samhain 2015

gHealth Research Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant

Thu, 12 November 15 18:30


(l-r) Dr Chris Watson, Research Director, gHealth Research; Dr Richard Drew, Consultant Microbiologist; Dr Joe Gallagher Clinical Director, gHealth Research; and Dr Carolanne Doherty Project Manager, gHealth Research


gHealth Research announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Drs. Joe Gallagher, Chris Watson and Richard Drew will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “BIOTOPE” - BIOmarkers TO diagnose PnEumonia. The announcement was made to coincide with World Pneumonia Day (12th November)

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mould in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges.  Joe and Chris’ project is one of more than 50 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 15 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. To receive funding, they and other Grand Challenges Explorations winners demonstrated in an online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas.  The foundation will be accepting applications for the next GCE round in March 2016.    

Pneumonia is the leading infectious killer of children under five years old responsible for more childhood deaths than malaria, measles and AIDS combined each year.  In 2015 alone, almost a million children died from this preventable and treatable illness, accounting for 16% of under-five child mortality worldwide.    There is an urgent need for new and better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat childhood pneumonia. BIOTOPE will develop new ways to diagnose pneumonia in the community.  In particular it will develop new ways to differentiate bacterial pneumonia, which can be treated by antibiotics, from viral pneumonia which cannot be treated by antibiotics. It will also identify those children most at risk of serious illness ensuring early referral to hospital for treatment. 

BIOTOPE will use symptoms and signs which are easily obtainable using modern electronic sensors in the community from children and combine these with new blood & urine tests to accurately identify bacterial pneumonia and identify the children most at risk of serious illness.  It is planned that this will be deployed as a mobile phone solution in the future.  This will lead to more accurate identification of bacterial pneumonia, reduction in inappropriate antibiotic use, and appropriate early referral of those most at risk of serious illness.  The use of mobile phone and point of care testing will allow this approach to be used in the community by primary care workers.  The project will involve colleagues from Mzuzu Central Hospital, Northern Malawi, Luke International Norway a NGO in Northern Malawi, Queen’s University Belfast, and the Global eHealth Unit in Imperial College London.

By ensuring antibiotics are used appropriately these tests will help reduce antibiotic resistance which is now a global problem which is threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases, resulting in death and disability of individuals who until recently could continue a normal course of life.

Notes to the Editor:

Key facts

  • Pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death in children worldwide, accounting for almost 1 in 6 of all deaths of children under 5 years old.
  • Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi.
  • Pneumonia can be prevented by immunization, adequate nutrition & by addressing environmental factors.
  • Pneumonia caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, but only one third of children with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need.

Joe Gallagher is a GP in Gorey Co Wexford and previously worked in Malawi.  Chris Watson is a biomedical scientist in the Conway Institute, University College Dublin.  Richard Drew is a Consultant Microbiologist in The Rotunda Hospital and Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street.

Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, over 1160 projects in more than 60 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants.  The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization.  The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with online applications and no preliminary data required.  Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

gHealth Research

gHealth Research is primarily working to improve healthcare in low and middle income countries, where access to primary healthcare and medicines is still a huge challenge and for vulnerable groups in high income countries.  It has a number of projects in the area of child health, diabetes and heart disease.