'Flying syringe' mosquitos, other ideas get Gates funding

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded 100,000 dollars each on Wednesday to scientists in 22 countries including funding for a Japanese proposal to turn mosquitos into "flying syringes" delivering vaccines.

The charitable foundation created by the founder of software giant Microsoft said in a statement that the grants were designed to "explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve global health."

The grants were awarded for research into preventing or curing infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and limiting the emergence of drug resistance.

They are the first round of funding for the Gates Foundation's "Grand Challenges Explorations," a five-year 100-million-dollar initiative to "promote innovative ideas in global health."

The funding was directed to projects that "fall outside current scientific paradigms and could lead to significant advances if successful," the Gates Foundation statement said.

"We were hoping this program would level the playing field so anyone with a transformational idea could more quickly assess its potential for the benefit of global health," said Tachi Yamada, president of global health at the Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation said 104 grants were awarded from nearly 4,000 proposals. The recipients included universities, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and six private companies.

"It was so hard for reviewers to champion just one great idea that we selected almost twice as many projects for funding as we had initially planned," Yamada said.

Among the proposals receiving funding was one from Hiroyuki Matsuoka at Jichi Medical University in Japan.

"(Matsuoka) thinks it may be possible to turn mosquitoes that normally transmit disease into 'flying syringes,' so that when they bite humans they deliver vaccines," the Gates Foundation said.

It said Pattamaporn Kittayapong at Mahidol University in Thailand received a grant to "explore new approaches for controlling dengue fever by studying bacteria with natural abilities to limit the disease."

Founded in 1994, the Seattle, Washington-based Gates Foundation is the largest private philanthropical organization in the world.