Weill Cornell Medical College Receives $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Innovative Global Health Research by Dr. Kyu Rhee
NEW YORK, June 2, 2009 — Weill Cornell Medical College announced today that it has received a US$100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will support an innovative global health research project conducted by Dr. Kyu Rhee, assistant attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, titled "Metabolosomes: The Organizing Principle of Latency in Mycobacterium Tuberculosis."
Dr. Rhee's project is one of 81 grants announced by the Gates Foundation in the second funding round of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to help scientists around the world explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve health in developing countries. The grants were provided to scientists in 17 countries on six continents.
To receive funding, Dr. Rhee showed in a two-page application how his idea falls outside current scientific paradigms and might lead to significant advances in global health. The initiative is highly competitive, receiving more than 3,000 proposals in this round.
Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death due to bacterial infection worldwide, but an effective drug therapy is elusive because sub-populations of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria stay dormant within the body. Dr. Rhee is studying the dormant state of the bacteria in order to understand how it protects itself from the body's natural defenses, and from currently available drug therapies, which have only been effective at destroying active forms of the bacteria.
Through mass spectrometry, a technique used to determine the composition of a molecule, Dr. Rhee hopes to understand the molecular machinery of the dormant Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium. Doing so may help lead to the discovery of a drug target to either prevent its replication or break through the protective protein shield during its hibernation phase.
"Mycobacterium tuberculosis is like a hybrid car. When accelerating you're using the gas and when you are sitting still you are using electricity," explains Dr. Rhee, who is also the William Randolph Hearst Foundation Clinical Scholar in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Weill Cornell Medical College. "We understand a lot about the active phase, but during dormancy, the bacterium is using a different type of circuitry that researchers need to understand in order to create effective therapies."
"The winners of these grants are doing truly exciting and innovative work," said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation's Global Health Program. "I'm optimistic that some of these exploratory projects will lead to life-saving breakthroughs for people in the world's poorest countries."
Weill Cornell was previously awarded two Grand Challenges Explorations grants in the first funding round: "Untimely Triggering of the Fusion Mechanism Used by Viruses for Entry: A New Antiviral Approach Using Engineered Microparticles," conducted by Dr. Anne Moscona, and "Senescent and Rejuvenated Mtb Subsets on Exit from Latency," conducted by Dr. Carl Nathan.
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.
Grant application instructions, including the list of topic areas in which proposals are currently being accepted, are available at the Grand Challenges Explorations Web site.
Weill Cornell Medical College
Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University's medical school located in New York City, is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine, locally, nationally and globally. Weill Cornell, which is a principal academic affiliate of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, offers an innovative curriculum that integrates the teaching of basic and clinical sciences, problem-based learning, office-based preceptorships, and primary care and doctoring courses. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research in areas such as stem cells, genetics and gene therapy, geriatrics, neuroscience, structural biology, cardiovascular medicine, transplantation medicine, infectious disease, obesity, cancer, psychiatry and public health -- and continue to delve ever deeper into the molecular basis of disease and social determinants of health in an effort to unlock the mysteries of the human body in health and sickness. In its commitment to global health and education, the Medical College has a strong presence in places such as Qatar, Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Through the historic Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, the Medical College is the first in the U.S. to offer its M.D. degree overseas. Weill Cornell is the birthplace of many medical advances -- including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer, the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, the first indication of bone marrow's critical role in tumor growth, and most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. For more information, visit www.med.cornell.edu.