College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Iowa State receives two Grand Challenges Explorations grants to improve global health and development

Testing a fanning mill.

By Annette Hacker
News Service Director
Iowa State University

Iowa State researchers have received two, $100,000 grants from Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grants provide funding for individuals worldwide to explore ideas toward solving persistent global health and development challenges. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded twice a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive an additional grant of up to $1 million.

Drug delivery platform could improve lives of millions

Bryan Bellaire, assistant professor of veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine; Richard Martin, professor of biomedical sciences, and Balaji Narasimhan, associate dean for research, Vlasta Klima Balloun Professor of engineering and an associate of the Ames Laboratory, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project titled “Single Dose Therapies Against Human Filarial Diseases.” They will study a drug delivery platform that could dramatically improve the lives of millions of people suffering from river blindness, elephantiasis and soil-transmitted helminth diseases.

Portable seed cleaners for Ugandan farmers

Testing a fanning mill.
Residents of Uganda test a fanning mill designed by students at Iowa State University.

Margaret Smith, Value Added Agriculture Program extension specialist; and Tom Brumm, associate professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering, will use their grant to research the use of portable, hand-operated seed cleaners for Ugandan farmers, who are primarily women. Smith has been working with the farmers on soybean production for the last two years. The crop, which was not widely grown in Uganda, is now providing improved nutrition for rural families and an additional cash crop for small-scale farmers.

The women currently winnow the soybeans by blowing on the grain as it falls to the ground, which is laborious and has caused allergic reactions to the dust and chaff. This study will evaluate the effectiveness of using a seed cleaner that could be purchased and shared by groups of farmers.

Iowa State mechanical engineering students developed the seed cleaner with input from Ugandan farmers. Smith and Brumm will work with several Ugandan partners to manufacture, distribute, evaluate and train students to repair the seed cleaners. In addition, the project will help farmers get agricultural loans and identify groups willing to purchase the seed cleaner.

The Iowa State projects are among 58 Grand Challenges Explorations grant awards announced May 21 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.