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Biomedical Researchers Receive Gates Foundation Grant

Two researchers in the college have been awarded a grant through the Grand Challenges Explorations program, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Andrew Patterson, assistant professor of molecular toxicology, and Gary Perdew, John T. and Paige S. Smith Professor in Agricultural Sciences, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Modulation of Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor (AHR) Activity for Establishing and Maintaining Gut Immune Function and Overall Intestinal Health.”

The program funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges.

“Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’re excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea toward global impact.”

Patterson and Perdew will lead a team of scientists to explore whether dietary modification or supplementation can produce nutrients in a mother’s breast milk that will enhance immune function in the gut of her children, with an eye toward reducing deaths and illnesses from gastro-intestinal diseases.

The grant will enable the researchers to prove their hypothesis first in a mouse model. In the future, they plan to extend the concept to human newborns and young children, eventually conducting intervention studies in settings where intestinal disorders in infants and children are common, such as in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Our approach represents an inexpensive, nontoxic, and natural dietary means by which to pharmacologically target the AHR, the activation of which in the gut is critical for maximum immune surveillance and the promotion of improved intestinal barrier function,” the researchers said.