The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to announce more than 100 cutting-edge global health grants to fund projects ranging from unmanned drones to deliver vaccines to using temporary tattoos to monitor pregnant women in remote areas. In an announcement Wednesday, the foundation will name scientists from around the world, but mostly in the United States, who will be getting $100,000 Grand Challenges Exploration grants to see if their highly speculative ideas have potential to save lives in the future.
Another six ideas have passed the initial stage and will be given $1 million each to advance their projects, the foundation said.
For Todd Coleman, an associate professor of bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego, the Gates grant is an opportunity to take an idea he had already been working on and aim it toward global health.
Coleman and a researcher at the University of Illinois are developing a thin, postage-stamp-sized temporary tattoo than can record and transmit biological information such as blood flow, body temperature and blood oxygen levels, and send it to a distant doctor with the use of a mobile telephone.
The idea could be useful for a lot of first-world problems such as monitoring diabetes and studying brain waves during sleep but could also help women in remote villages keep in touch with medical help hundreds or thousands of miles away, Coleman said.
“It could create a paradigm shift in access to health,” he said. “Doctors can say wear this postage stamp and I’ll call you when there’s a problem.”
The idea has attracted attention for its ingenuity but also because of the potential for ethical concerns including privacy, Coleman acknowledged during an interview Tuesday.
More discussion and debate is needed, said the scientist who is also working on ideas for human brain-computer interface to improve productivity.
“It is my hope that this type of technological advancement will bring more good than bad,” Coleman said.
Many other ideas from the brief description in a Gates Foundation spreadsheet on the 100 grants may be destined for similar ethical debates, including a color-changing instant test for HIV infection and a plan to create unmanned drones to deliver vaccines to remote areas.
Over the past four years, the foundation has funded more than 600 projects from more than 20,000 proposals submitted by researchers in 44 countries. Foundation officers consider the money a kind of startup fund for the future of global health and development research. They do not expect all the ideas to pan out but are hoping one or two eventually will change millions of lives.