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Murimi Receives Gates Grant for Life-Saving Research

June 1, 2011

Dr. Renita Murimi is hoping to use common technology to help battle a global health risk, and she and a colleague recently received a grant to help make the idea a reality.

Murimi, assistant professor of computer information science at OBU, and Josiane Nzouonta, a fellow graduate from their alma mater, New Jersey Institute of Technology, proposed a low-cost cell phone application targeting mosquitoes that spread yellow fever and dengue fever. Their research team was one of 88 winners of $100,000 grants provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support innovative research that has the potential to dramatically improve lives in some of the world's poorest countries.

"Dr. Murimi's research could lead to an inexpensive way to use technology to save countless lives in mosquito-infested areas," said Dr. David Houghton, dean of the Paul Dickinson School of Business. "This is a powerful example for OBU students of how our academic disciplines can be used to make a positive, Christ-like impact on our world. It's wonderful to have a Christian researcher of Dr. Murimi's caliber on our team in the Paul Dickinson School of Business at OBU."

The funding, made possible through the Grand Challenges Exploration (GCE) program, will enable researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent health and development challenges.

Murimi's project, titled "eMosquitoNet: Electronic Mosquito Net Application," will develop and test a cell phone application, eMosquitoNet, which plays music that includes sound waves at resonant frequencies of female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit yellow fever and dengue fever. These sound waves cause uncontrollable vibrations and failure of the mosquito's navigation system, preventing them from feeding and spreading disease.

"The United Nations predicts that cell-phone ownership will reach 5 billion in 2010, with most growth occurring in the developing world," the team reported in their grant proposal. "This proliferation of cell phones and connectivity offers an unprecedented opportunity to access vast populations, including previously hard-to-reach populations in rural areas. Cell phones also provide previously unavailable capabilities in the developing world, including computational power, text and image displays, imaging, incentive structures, and standardized interfaces that can be leveraged to create powerful systems. With this GCE topic we seek innovative, high-impact global health solutions that leverage these capabilities towards our existing global health priorities."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), yellow fever is an acute viral disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The "yellow" in the name refers to the jaundice that affects some patients. Up to 50 percent of severely affected persons without treatment will die from yellow fever. An estimated 200,000 cases of yellow fever result in 30,000 deaths a year.

Also according to WHO, about two-fifths of the world's population is now at risk for contracting dengue fever. WHO estimates there may be as many as 50 million dengue infections worldwide each year. Dengue is a mosquito-borne infection that is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world, predominantly in urban and semi-urban areas. The only way to prevent dengue virus transmission is to combat the disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Winners of the Grand Challenges grants were selected from more than 2,500 proposals and approximately 100 countries. They represent a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines, including health researchers, computer and electronic engineers, and entrepreneurs.

"One bold idea is all it takes to catalyze new approaches to global health and development," Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of global health at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said on the Grand Challenges website. "Despite the progress in global health and development, we vitally need creative ideas to discover and deliver life-saving vaccines, eradicate the next disease or slow the spread of preventable diseases."

Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, Grand Challenge Explorations grants have been awarded to nearly 500 researchers from more than 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 twice a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million. Information is available here.

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people -- especially those with the fewest resources -- have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Learn more here.