Biochemistry scientist at UC Davis receives Gates Foundation ...
NEWS | November 7, 2011

Biochemistry scientist at UC Davis receives Gates Foundation funding


UC Davis Health System announced today that it 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 persistent health and development challenges. Thomas Jue, UC Davis professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine, will pursue an innovative global health research project, titled "Sialic Acid Supplement for Improved Cognition."

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. Jue's project is one of 110 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced today.

Thomas Jue © UC Regents
Thomas Jue

"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. This includes finding effective methods to eliminate or control infectious diseases such as polio and HIV as well as discovering new sanitation technologies.
To learn more about Grand Challenges Explorations, visit

Jue, a leading expert in the use of magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy to visualize biochemical processes in living organisms, intends to develop the first viable, non-invasive technique to directly monitor the metabolism of sialic acid, a type of carbohydrate found in mother's milk that plays an important role in newborn brain development and function. The unique imaging capability would enable Jue and his colleagues from the UC Davis Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, Frederic A. Troy, II, a professor emeritus who specializes in sialic acid chemistry, and Youngran Chung, an associate adjunct professor with expertise in intermediary metabolism, to identify sialic acid complexes responsible for cognition and neural development. It also would allow the team to understand the underlying biochemistry of sialic acid and find ways to improve its uptake in the brain.

Dr. Jue and team © UC Regents
Jue with research colleagues (l-to-r) Frederic A. Troy and Youngran Chung

By determining the distribution and metabolism of sialic acid, Jue and his colleagues hope to advance global health by paving the way for more effective nutritional food supplements that will foster infant brain development and better cognition in later life.

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.

UC Davis Health System is improving lives and transforming health care by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education, and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. The academic health system includes one of the country's best medical schools, a 645-bed acute-care teaching hospital, an 800-member physician's practice group and the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. It is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, an international neurodevelopmental institute, a stem cell institute and a comprehensive children's hospital. Other nationally prominent centers focus on advancing telemedicine, improving vascular care, eliminating health disparities and translating research findings into new treatments for patients. Together, they make UC Davis a hub of innovation that is transforming health for all. For more information, visit