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April 29, 2013

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Innovative research targets disease in developing countries

Work by University of Victoria researchers Alex Brolo and Francis Nano to develop innovative disease diagnostics and preventions has earned them each Grand Challenges Canada grants.

Brolo, a chemistry professor, and Nano, a biochemistry and microbiology professor, will each receive $100,000 from the Stars in Global Health program. The federally funded Grand Challenges Canada program awards Phase I proof-of-concept grants of $100,000 and Phase II awards up to $1 million for successful applicants to scale up their work. The program focuses on advancing innovative ideas to address health issues in developing countries.

Brolo is working with nanotechnology to create a low-cost hand-held device to provide instant diagnosis of dengue, which is endemic in his home country of Brazil, where major outbreaks affect hundreds of thousands of people each year. Worldwide, up to 100 million people are affected annually, with 25,000 deaths. But early diagnosis significantly improves survival rates. Brolo’s diagnostic device involves a plastic strip coated with nanoparticles and the appropriate chemistry to recognize the dengue-specific signature in saliva, which produces a colour change in the plastic strip.

Nano is working with proteins from cold-water bacteria to develop a safe live vaccine for tuberculosis. Nano will lead the project in Canada, working with dead DNA and individual genes, and partner with scientists at the Novosibirsk TB Research Institute in Russia. The strategy is to create a strain of pathogen that can replicate in a person’s skin, but is temperature sensitive so it cannot penetrate into deeper tissue to cause an infection, thus safely exposing the immune system and providing future immunity.

There are 43 projects in 16 Canadian cities among more than 100 projects in total, sharing $12.3 million in this round of seed grants aimed at reducing debilitating disease and saving lives in developing countries.

More information on today’s announcement is available from Grand Challenges Canada.

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  Media Contacts:

Dr. Alex Brolo (Chemistry) at 250-721-7167 or agbrolo@uvic.ca
Dr. Francis Nano (Biochemistry and Microbiology) at 250-721-7074 or fnano@uvic.ca
Denise Helm (UVic Communications) at 250-721-7656 or dhelm@uvic.ca

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