The Grand Challenges of health research
Ever hear of a Grand Challenge? These are the hardest problems in any field, and Grand Challenges allow funding sources (government, non-profits, corporations) to focus efforts on solving some of the toughest issues out there. And, pun intended, Global Health is not immune from these Grand Challenges:
1. Develop better vaccines.
In developing countries, 27 million children don’t get basic preventive vaccines, so about 1 million of them die each year from diseases the industrialized world eliminated eons ago. The challenge: deliver vaccines to these children in one single dose, without the need for refrigeration and in ways that bypass the need for needles.
2. Invent vaccines against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
These big three kill 5 million people a year. What’s needed is better understanding of the immune responses in each disease, determining a good antigen to develop a vaccine to target, and create better animal tests that give us a more accurate picture of how these diseases progress.
3. Beat the bugs.
Insects are the scourge of the tropics, spreading malaria and dengue fever to as many as 500 million people. Insecticides haven’t worked overly well, so the challenge here is to create safer, more effective controls. These include manipulating insect genes and biology, more advanced and less expensive (and toxic) insecticides, and even using odors to repel (or distract) insects.
4. Better food.
About half of sub-Saharan Africa suffers from iron deficiency, and more than 90 percent of kids there don’t get enough vitamin A. Worsening the problem is the poor soil that can’t sustain many crops. The result? Blindness, low birth weights, impaired immunity, and stunted development. Solutions include genetically modified crops that contain more nutrients, and more sustainable and diverse farming practices.
5. Resisting (drug) resistance.
A problem for the developing and industrialized parts of the world, microbes have shown an amazing ability to change their biology and fend of antibiotics and other drugs that were once effective. The challenge against this change is to delve into how these microbes evolve, which may yield clues into stymieing their adaptive, pathological behavior.
Although Grand Challenges go back 100 years to the mathematician David Hilbert, Global Health Grand Challenges are backed by a US$100 million program with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to resolve health issues in the developing world. These are just five of the challenges. Check out their website for more, and add some of your own!