Three UCL international collaborations are among the first to receive Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) awards, in recognition of their world-leading research partnerships improving health in low and middle income countries.
The innovative partnerships optimising infant feeding practices in rural India, using technology to support HIV prevention in South Africa, and shaping future policies for the control of non-communicable diseases around the world, are among those taking home a share of more than £20m funding.
The interdisciplinary initiatives will be led by Professor Rachel Anne McKendry (London Centre for Nanotechnology), Professor Monica Lakhanpaul (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health) and Professor Sarah Hawkes (UCL Institute for Global Health).
They are among 41 short-term projects across 39 UK research organisations to whom MRC, AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC and NERC are providing funding to work in partnership in 32 different countries.
Professor McKendry’s collaboration m-Africa will build mobile phone-connected diagnostics together with online care pathways to support HIV testing, management and prevention in decentralised settings. The m-Africa project builds on the work developed by i-sense – an £11m UCL-led interdisciplinary collaboration developing technologies for the very early detection of infectious disease outbreaks.
The team brings together clinicians, scientists, engineers and public health researchers from UCL, Imperial College and the Africa Health Research Institute to deliver major health and economic benefits at the global epicentre of HIV.
Professor McKendry, Director of i-sense said: “Our interdisciplinary team will explore if key smartphone functions such as the camera can interpret HIV test results and securely send them to local clinics, supporting virtual follow up appointments and rapid treatment. This award lays the foundation for future product development and clinical trials, and ultimately aims to empower more people to get tested, especially those who have never tested before, and enable faster access to potentially life-saving treatment."
The MRC Foundation Awards scheme is a collective initiative from the research councils under the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund.
The awards have been allocated to support ambitious, novel and distinctive research in non-communicable diseases and infections, aiming to improve the health and prosperity of low and middle-income countries through harnessing the UK’s research expertise.
New research awards in global agriculture and food systems (BBSRC-led) will be announced early in 2017.
Declan Mulkeen, the MRC’s Chief of Strategy said: “The MRC has a strong track record in global health research, often in partnership. Infectious disease has been the main focus and remains the largest area of funding, but as countries develop, their health needs change. The Global Challenges Research Fund will enable us to tackle a broader range of health problems, for local and global benefit."
“These awards represent a significant win for global research. We hope that many of the research partnerships being supported will move on to even more ambitious work over the coming years.”