ASU receives Gates grant for research in global health

Shengxi Chen

Arizona State University has been awarded a Grand Challenges Explorations grant, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Biodesign Institute researcher Shengxi Chen will pursue a global health and innovation project to design a better, next-generation condom.

Grand Challenges Explorations funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Chen’s project is one of more than 50 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 12 grants announced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To receive funding, Chen and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 12 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included development of the next-generation condom, agriculture development and neglected tropical diseases.

With his $100,000, 18-month grant, Chen will develop new materials to make a more breathable, skin-like condom that mimics the membrane design of living cells to increase pleasure, enhance performance and yet, still provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

“I want to develop a new polymer-based chemistry in which we could coat a condom to modify its surface for optimal performance,” said Chen.

The goal at the end of the grant period is to deliver a simple, low-cost coating that could modify off-the-shelf condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and improve global health.

This is the second Grand Challenges award for Chen. In 2012, Chen, of the institute’s Center for BioEnergetics, led by director Sid Hecht, worked on a project to design and prepare new, low-cost ways to detect HIV to help prevent the spread of the epidemic.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, more than 850 people in more than 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline, and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short, two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.