NEWS | November 7, 2011

UC Davis malaria investigator receives Grand Challenges Explorations funding


UC Davis molecular biologist Shirley Luckhart, an internationally recognized malaria expert, will receive $100,000 from Grand Challenges Explorations to advance her work in developing nutritional supplements to reverse the malaria-induced intestinal damage that contributes to the development of non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) bacteremia in malaria-infected children.

Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, enables researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent health and development challenges.

Luckhart, a professor of medical microbiology and immunology in the UC Davis School of Medicine, will pursue an innovative global health research project titled "Nutritional Intervention for Malaria-induced NTS Bacteremia."

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. Luckhart's project is one of 110 Grand Challenges Explorations grants awarded to investigators from 21 countries announced today. The projects receiving funding show promise in tackling priority global health issues where solutions do not yet exist.

Shirley Luckhart and Jennifer Chau © UC Regents
Shirley Luckhart on the left with Jennifer Chau

"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."

Luckhart, who specializes in cell signaling and innate immunity related to host-parasite interactions, collaborates with departmental colleague Associate Professor Renee Tsolis on studies of the pathology, cell biology and immunology of malaria-NTS co-infection. The new funding will support studies in Luckhart's lab that are examining the mechanisms whereby certain nutritional supplements can improve intestinal barrier function in the context of malaria infection. Ph.D. candidate Jennifer Chau will lead the hands-on lab work funded by the award.

"I am very grateful to the Gates Foundation for recognizing the value of our work," said Luckhart. "We are dedicated to reducing the devastating impact of malaria, which affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Funding like this plays a crucial role in the groundbreaking advances that will finally put an end to the consequences of this epidemic."

About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, Grand Challenge Explorations grants have already been awarded to nearly 500 researchers from over 40 countries. 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 an opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million. To learn more about Grand Challenges Explorations, visit

About the UC Davis School of Medicine
The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs. The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care. Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine at