Grand Challenges is a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems. Each initiative is an experiment in the use of challenges to focus innovation on making an impact. Individual challenges address some of the same problems, but from differing perspectives.
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John Herr of the University of Virginia in the U.S. will research the egg-specific membrane enzyme metalloprotease as a target for a non-hormonal female contraceptive. After determining the nature of the enzyme's catalytic pocket, a family of peptidomimetic compounds will be tested for their ability to bind to the enzyme and block its key role in egg fertilization.
Haim Breitbart of Bar-Ilan University in Israel will design and test antisense molecules that will inactivate specific genes within sperm that are essential to the fertilization process. If successful, these antisense molecules can be used to develop a reversible oral male contraceptive.
Renjie Chang of Lavax in the U.S. will develop and test a vaginal suppository that uses a strain of commensal bacteria which has the ability to immobilize sperm and capture viruses. If successful, the bacteria could be used as a reversible contraceptive that also affords protection against viruses such as HIV and herpes.
Gérrard Poinern of Murdoch University in Australia will develop and test an implantable subcutaneous device made from same calcium mineral that bones are made of, which will release contraceptive drugs in a sustained and controlled way for a period of months. Creating of this device uses ultrasound and microwave technology, allowing for eventual low-cost manufacture in developing countries.
Nongnuj Tanphaichitr of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (formerly Ottawa Health Research Institute) in Canada will research whether the antimicrobial peptide LL-37 can be used simultaneously as a contraceptive and an anti-HIV treatment. LL-37 binds to specific sites on sperm which are thought not only to play key roles in egg fertilization but also interact with gp120 used by HIV to gain entry into cells.
Paul Blumenthal of Stanford University in the U.S. is creating a cell phone application that collects information on an individual's menstrual cycle, processes the information with a calendar algorithm, and sends free text messages as a reminder to a woman of her menstrual status.
Abi Santhosh Aprem of HLL Lifecare Ltd. in India will attempt to eliminate the side effects associated with copper T intrauterine devices by coating the copper with biodegradable polymers. The polymers could prevent bulk shedding of copper ions that cause bleeding, cramping and pain, leading to increased acceptance of this highly effective contraceptive device. In this project's Phase I research, Aprem determined the optimal polymer film and coating technique and demonstrated that it was safe and effective in controlling copper ion release at the required daily levels. In Phase II, clinical trials will be conducted to assess the safety, efficacy and acceptance of the coated copper T intrauterine device.
Ludwig Neyses, Nicola Tirelli of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and Benjamin Kaupp of the Max Planck Institute in Germany will test an affordable, sustained drug delivery formulation made of microparticle "doughnuts" combined with recently identified non-hormonal substances that immobilize sperm for possible use in a vaginal contraceptive device.
Samuel Wickline of Washington University in the U.S. will formulate a vaginal gel that contains nanoparticles which serve as decoys to attract both sperm and HIV. The nanoparticles will fuse with specific receptors in the sperm and virions, causing both to deliver their genetic material into the nanoparticles, which simultaneously delivers a peptide that incapacitates both targets.
David Clapham of Boston Children's Hospital in the U.S. will develop and test a nanoparticle contraceptive that releases sperm tail inhibitors in response to vaginal pH changes or exposure to prostatic fluid. The nanoparticles could be incorporated into a vaginal gel to block sperm motility required for fertilization. This project's Phase I research culminated in the development of mesoporous silica nanoparticles that contain sperm inhibitors. In Phase II, Clapham will refine the efficacy and stability of the nanoparticles, conduct animal model tests, and collect data necessary to file for a new drug application.