North­eastern Uni­ver­sity announced today that it has received a $100,000 Grand Chal­lenges Explo­rations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion. The grant will sup­port an inno­v­a­tive global health research project con­ducted by Kim Lewis, director of the Antimi­cro­bial Dis­covery Center, titled ““Tar­geted Cap­ture of Latent M. Tuber­cu­losis Cells from a Mam­malian Host.”

Pro­fessor Lewis’ project is one of 104 grants announced by the Gates Foun­da­tion for the first funding round of Grand Chal­lenges Explo­rations, an ini­tia­tive to help sci­en­tists around the world explore bold, new solu­tions for health chal­lenges in devel­oping coun­tries. The grants were pro­vided to all levels of sci­en­tists in 22 coun­tries and five continents.

To receive funding, Pro­fessor Lewis showed in a two-​​page appli­ca­tion how his idea falls out­side cur­rent sci­en­tific par­a­digms and could lead to sig­nif­i­cant advances in global health if successful.

Dr. Lewis’ research pro­poses a straight­for­ward method to make latent M. tuber­cu­losis cells stand out from the rest of the pop­u­la­tion, which will enable their obser­va­tion, cap­ture and study.

Most indi­vid­uals infected with M. tuber­cu­losis (MTB) carry a latent form of the pathogen that is asymp­to­matic and highly resis­tant to treat­ment, with 10% of those infected going on to develop acute, trans­mis­sible dis­ease. Latent MTB have never actu­ally been observed or iso­lated, in spite of sub­stan­tial effort directed at the problem. Latent cells are appar­ently dor­mant and sparse, and without any known activity asso­ci­ated with these cells, it is not obvious how to iden­tify them.

Latent tuber­cu­losis is the main reser­voir of infec­tion and presents enor­mous health prob­lems on a global scale due to insuf­fi­cient methods to detect and treat asymp­to­matic car­riers,” said Lewis. “The research we do at the Center will result in approaches to detect, for the first time, latent MTB cells. We are pleased of the recog­ni­tion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion and will take full advan­tage of this oppor­tu­nity to advance to the next stage of research which will guide the devel­op­ment of effec­tive ther­a­peu­tics against latent tuberculosis.”

I con­grat­u­late each indi­vidual who took the ini­tia­tive to share their idea with us to help fight the world’s most serious dis­eases,” said Dr. Tachi Yamada, pres­i­dent of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Pro­gram. “The number of cre­ative approaches we received exceeded our highest aspi­ra­tions. Projects from this ini­tial pool of grants have the poten­tial to trans­form health in devel­oping coun­tries, and I will be rooting for their success.”

The Antimi­cro­bial Dis­covery Center at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is an aca­d­emic research center working at the cut­ting edge of modern mol­e­c­ular micro­bi­ology and biotech­nology. With estab­lished pro­grams in antibi­otic resis­tance and drug dis­covery, the Center has been making paradigm-​​shifting advances in a field that has seen few dis­cov­eries since the last broad-​​spectrum class was intro­duced in the early 1960s.

Led by Pro­fessor Lewis, recent break­throughs from the Center have included the cul­ture of new species of bac­teria for antibi­otic dis­covery, achieved by designing a dif­fu­sion chamber for growing “uncul­tur­able” organ­isms. This work is a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort with Pro­fessor Slava Epstein from Biology Depart­ment. Since fully 99% of micro­bial species in the envi­ron­ment have never been suc­cess­fully grown in the lab­o­ra­tory, this rep­re­sents an impor­tant mile­stone for pro­viding access to a pre­vi­ously untapped source of new antibiotics.

The Center is also at the fore­front of research into a new type of bac­te­rial cells called per­sis­ters. In seem­ingly intractable dis­eases such as tuber­cu­losis, per­sister cells can lie dor­mant in human organs for decades, invul­ner­able to known antibi­otics, and then rapidly resus­ci­tate. Research in the Center, including the devel­op­ment of a new tech­nology to kill per­sister cells, is laying the ground for devel­op­ment of anti-​​TB drugs capable of erad­i­cating these latent cells and dras­ti­cally reducing the length of treatment.

For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact Renata Nyul at 617–373-7424 or at r.​nyul@​neu.​edu.

About Grand Chal­lenges Explorations

Grand Chal­lenges Explo­rations is a five-​​year $100 mil­lion ini­tia­tive of the Gates Foun­da­tion to pro­mote inno­va­tion in global health. The pro­gram uses an agile, stream­lined grant process – appli­ca­tions are lim­ited to two pages, and pre­lim­i­nary data are not required. Pro­posals are reviewed and selected by a com­mittee of foun­da­tion staff and external experts, and grant deci­sions are made within approx­i­mately three months of the close of the funding round.

Appli­ca­tions for the second round of Grand Chal­lenges Explo­rations are being accepted through November 2, 2008, and topics for the third round will be announced in early 2009. Grant appli­ca­tion instruc­tions, including the list of topic areas in which pro­posals are cur­rently being accepted, are avail­able at www​.gcgh​.org/​e​x​p​l​o​r​a​t​i​ons.

About North­eastern

Founded in 1898, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is a pri­vate research uni­ver­sity located in the heart of Boston. North­eastern is a leader in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, urban engage­ment, and the inte­gra­tion of class­room learning with real-​​world expe­ri­ence. The university’s dis­tinc­tive coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram, where stu­dents alter­nate semes­ters of full-​​time study with semes­ters of paid work in fields rel­e­vant to their pro­fes­sional inter­ests and major, is one of the largest and most inno­v­a­tive in the world. The Uni­ver­sity offers a com­pre­hen­sive range of under­grad­uate and grad­uate pro­grams leading to degrees through the doc­torate in six under­grad­uate col­leges, eight grad­uate schools, and two part-​​time divi­sions. For more infor­ma­tion, please visit www​.north​eastern​.edu.