Institute gets Grand Challenges Explorations grant

Date posted: November 11, 2011

Dr. Mary Ann Lila Dr. Mary Ann Lila, Director, Plants for Human Health Institute, NC Research Campus, Kannapolis

KANNAPOLIS, NC – N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis will receive $100,000 in 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.

Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute, will pursue an innovative global health research project, titled “Cost effective shelf-stable delivery of concentrated phytonutrients and proteins to infants and children using locally-available foods.”

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. Dr. Lila’s project is one of 110 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced earlier this week.

“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 www.grandchallenges.org. Dr. Lila and the Plants for Human Health Institute, in partnership with Rutgers University, recently developed a transformational technology that extracts plant compounds, specifically phytochemicals, from a wide range of fruits and vegetables. These compounds boost the immune system and provide numerous benefits to human health.

With this new technology, researchers are able to concentrate the compounds into a nutritious and stable functional food ingredient, one that has already been used to produce nutrient-rich solid foods and slurries incorporated into baby food or spread applications.

As part of the grant, Dr. Lila and her team, including the David H. Murdock Research Institute, will partner with colleagues at the University of Zambia in Lusaka to adapt the functional food technology for locally available pulse crops and fruit resources. The high perishability, limited availability and high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables are creating extreme levels of malnourishment and health issues among many African populations.

“One of the primary goals is to enable year-round healthy development of undernourished mothers, infants and children in African communities,” said Dr. Lila. “Fruits and vegetables that possess health-enhancing phytonutrients are often inaccessible to large sectors of the population – in particular pregnant women and children – in developing countries.”

Before introducing the functional food ingredient into the African communities, Dr. Lila’s team will spend the next year optimizing the ingredient’s formulation, performing detailed nutritional analysis and coordinating with African partners in the host communities to develop an infrastructure for providing the functional food locally.

Dr. Lila is an internationally renowned scientist who has large ongoing research projects in Egypt, Central Asia, Oceania, Mexico and Africa. She is vice president of the Global Institute for BioExploration (GIBEX). In 1999, Dr. Lila won a Fulbright Senior Scholarship to conduct research and outreach in New Zealand, where she travels annually. Her lab is a partner with the Medicines for Malaria Venture.

About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a $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 $1 million.

About Plants for Human Health Institute
The N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute is part of the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. Its Cooperative Extension outreach is known as N.C. MarketReady. The campus is a public-private venture including eight universities, the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI) and corporate entities that collaborate to advance the fields of nutrition and health. Learn more at http://plantsforhumanhealth.ncsu.edu.

Media Contact: Leah Chester-Davis, director of communications, Plants for Human Health Institute, 704-250-5406 or leah_chester-davis@ncsu.edu

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