Rice University receives Grand Challenges Point-of-Care Diagnostics grant

David Ruth

Mike Williams

Rice University receives Grand Challenges Point-of-Care Diagnostics grant

Rice University announced that it will receive a Point-of-Care Diagnostics grant through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health.

This initiative created by the Gates Foundation seeks to engage creative minds across scientific disciplines including those who have not traditionally taken part in health research to work on solutions that could lead to breakthrough advances for people in the developing world.

Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Rice’s Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering and director of Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies, and Tomasz Tkaczyk, an assistant professor of bioengineering, will use to the grant to pursue an innovative project: low-cost, high-sensitivity, reconfigurable optical sensing components for point-of-care diagnostics.

The Grand Challenges Point-of-Care Diagnostics program provides funding to scientists and researchers worldwide to create technologies and components to assess conditions and pathogens at the point of care in the developing world. Richards-Kortum and Tkaczyk’s project is one of 22 grants announced today.

“New and improved diagnostics to use at the point-of-care can help health workers around the world save countless lives,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Our hope is that these bold ideas lead to affordable, easy-to-use tools that can rapidly diagnose diseases and trigger timelier treatment in resource-poor communities.”

Projects that received funding show promise in creating point-of-care diagnostics that will be easy to use, low-cost and otherwise appropriate so that they achieve significant impact and rapid uptake in resource-poor settings.

The Rice team plans to create an affordable, palm-sized, programmable system — as simple as a child’s LEGO blocks and as sophisticated and effective as a hospital lab — to diagnose disease in the developing world. The point-of-care technology, called Readout and Signal Transduction (ROST), is being created at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative and brings together advances in plastic optics, microelectronics, mass fabrication and microfluidics in a reusable platform that will cost less than $10. It will consist of a universal fixture that accepts a library of “plug-and-sense” interrogation units — arrays of light sources and lenses — tuned to detect signs of specific diseases.

Until now, such tests have required complex and costly laboratory work. “Our goal is to develop and implement a new, modular design approach to build a reusable ROST component that is more sensitive, robust, compact, power-efficient and cheaper than large-scale counterparts and that can easily be customized to interface with a wide variety of point-of-care sample platforms,” Richards-Kortum said. “We hope this universal fixture will accelerate advances in point-of-care diagnostic tools.”

About Grand Challenges in Global Health

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes that solving the greatest global health issues is a long-term effort. Through Grand Challenges in Global Health, the foundation is committed to seeking out and rewarding not only established researchers in science and technology, but also young investigators, entrepreneurs and innovators to help expand the pipeline of ideas to fight diseases that claim millions of lives each year. The foundation anticipates that additional grants will be awarded through the Grand Challenges program in the future.


About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.