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Research project earns Grand Challenges Explorations funding

November 28, 2011

ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation will receive funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address global health and development challenges.

Qiang “Shawn” Chen, professor and researcher at ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation, will pursue an innovative global health research project on alternative delivery of human milk proteins to infants in developing countries.

Grand Challenges Explorations funds scientists and researchers 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 110 Grand Challenges Explorations grants that were selected from 2,075 submitted proposals. 

“We believe in the power of innovation – that a single bold idea can pioneer solutions to our greatest health and development challenges,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Grand Challenges Explorations seeks to identify and fund these new ideas wherever they come from, allowing scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs to pursue the kinds of creative ideas and novel approaches that could help to accelerate the end of polio, cure HIV infection or improve sanitation.”

Projects that are receiving funding show promise in tackling priority global health issues where solutions do not yet exist. Chen’s research is aimed at improving infant health in developing countries by creating an alternative human milk protein delivery system in edible plants that is sustainable, readily accessible and available and cost effective. Chen is producing a cocktail of human milk proteins that will be engineered into the protein bodies of common plants such as lettuce or rice that can be consumed directly or formulated into baby food.

The suite of human milk proteins will enhance infant immune systems by providing essential nutrients, natural antibacterial and antiviral activities, and increasing the absorption of other essential nutrients.

“The goal for this project is to create an innovative, yet sustainable and accessible, solution to a global issue,” said Chen. “In this case it’s malnutrition and associated diseases such as iron deficiency anemia in infants of developing countries. By engineering edible plants to express the same natural proteins found in human milk, we are creating a viable solution for areas with limited resources to still provide the vital nutritional and medical benefits essential to an infant’s development and well-being."