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Apply Synthetic Biology to Global Health Challenges (Round 7)



Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological entities such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells or the redesign of existing biological systems.* Synthetic biology is characterized by a bottoms-up approach to designing biological systems for a specific purpose. Synthesis offers opportunities for achieving goals that observation and analysis do not: A synthetic goal forces science to encounter and solve problems that are not easily encountered through analysis, driving the creation of new solutions. The power of synthesis is well illustrated in chemistry, which has long had synthetic tools; biology has more recently developed such tools, synthesizing parts of living systems to test new ideas and create novel products.

What We’re Looking For:

Synthetic biology techniques may offer valuable alternatives to standard approaches for a variety of human health applications including vaccine and drug creation, diagnostics, or combinations of interventions within a single biological system. The goal of this topic is to examine the potential for synthetic biology to contribute novel and radical approaches to generating new global health solutions. We wish to encourage researchers to harness these emerging tools for the goals of global health, and to support innovation in this emerging field that can be brought to bear on the needs of the developing world.

To be considered, proposals must closely align with one or more of the foundation’s Global Health priority areas: malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, pneumonia, enteric disease & diarrhea, maternal neonatal & child health, nutrition, polio, and/or family planning. See http://www.gatesfoundation.org/global-health/Pages/global-health-strategies.aspx for information about the foundation’s strategies in our priority Global Health areas. Consideration should be given to potential safety concerns; in particular, preventative interventions such as vaccines for global infectious diseases have a high safety bar. 

A few of the many specific examples to be considered include:

  • Develop a novel intervention to prevent infectious disease using chemicals, materials or organisms engineered via synthetic biology approaches;
  • Biofabricate chemicals or materials to improve the efficacy of disease treatment, or to increase the chemical diversity available for new drug discovery / development;
  • Create a diagnostic biosensor  for a global health indication using genetic circuitry or other approaches for stimulus and response induction;
  • Build a synthetic instance of a biological system to accelerate development of global health interventions (e.g. a predictive model for preclinical drug or vaccine testing;
  • Build a synthetic instance of a biological system to test and further our understanding of that system, addressing a critical knowledge gap in global health (e.g. a synthetic model of disease pathogenesis).

We will not consider funding for:

  • Potential solutions not aligned with the Gates Foundation’s Global Health priority areas and strategies listed above (see http://www.gatesfoundation.org/global-health/Pages/global-health-strategies.aspx);
  • Drug treatment approaches in areas other than malaria or TB;
  • Approaches that present unacceptable downstream safety risks, e.g., as a barrier to product development;
  • Proposals that do not employ a synthetic biology approach, mindset or toolkit;
  • Research intended to expand or improve the basic tools, components or processes of synthetic biology, without a direct link to generating novel global health solutions;
  • Basic research without a clear objective to solve a global health problem, either the creation of a novel product / solution OR addressing a critical global health knowledge gap.

Great ideas come from everywhere.

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View the Grand Challenges partnership network

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is part of the Grand Challenges partnership network. Visit www.grandchallenges.org to view the map of awarded grants across this network and grant opportunities from partners.