Smith College recently received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Exploration Grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for research on health issues in the developing world.
The grant, spearheaded by Nils Pilotte, a doctoral student and research associate in the lab of Steven Williams, Gates Professor of Biological Sciences, will support detection of parasites that cause lymphatic filariasis, a disease that afflicts hundreds of millions of people in developing countries and can lead to the permanent debilitating condition known as elephantiasis.
The grant will further the development of an inexpensive procedure for trapping live mosquitoes and detecting the presence of a worm-like parasite they carry and excrete.
Researchers will conduct a pilot study of the trapping and detection method in an endemic region—most likely in Bangladesh—during several months next year.
The Grand Challenges Explorations Grant is the third research award received by Williams’ lab from the Gates Foundation during the past eight years, and the second this year.
“We are very excited about this project and are extremely grateful to the Gates foundation for this extraordinary opportunity,” said Williams. “We believe this new approach to detecting parasites within the mosquito host has great potential as a method for drastically reducing the costs associated with disease monitoring and surveillance.”
The Smith project is among 81 early-stage research projects funded through the Grand Challenges Exploration program. Projects that demonstrate success in the initial phase will be eligible to receive as much as $1 million in a second phase of funding.