Infectious diseases fellows reap seed grant in Grand Challenge

May 30, 2014 11:00 AM

Deirdre Boling

Dr. Malena Correa

Dr. Malena Correa represents fellows in the project video that earned a seed grant to support the development of low-cost techniques to detect pneumonia in children in resource-poor settings. (Photo from Dr. Malena Correa)

A project developed by fellows in the Inter-American Training for Innovations in Emerging Infectious Diseases program at Tulane University was one of seven Peru-based initiatives selected to earn $100,000 seed grants from Grand Challenges Canada. The project will lead to development of low-cost, non-imaging ultrasound techniques to detect pneumonia in children in resource-poor settings.

Dr. Richard Oberhelman, chair of the Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences in the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, directs the program in collaboration with a consortium of universities and organizations in the U.S., Peru and Argentina. 

The four postdoctoral fellows are Dr. Cynthia Anticona, Dr. Melena Correa, Holger Mayta and Monica Pajuelo. 

Rural health facilities in low-income countries are often staffed with inexperienced medical staff with limited accessibility to diagnostic equipment. The symptoms of pneumonia can be very similar to malaria but the diseases are treated differently, making it important to distinguish between them. 

The proposed technology uses ultrasound which is less expensive than traditional X-ray machines and does not involve radiation exposure. Unlike conventional ultrasound, however, the simplified ultrasound technique would simply scan the chest and give a normal/abnormal result. Artificial intelligence would “train” the device to recognize abnormal scans.

Grand Challenges Canada is modeled after a similar Gates Foundation program.

With co-funding from the Peruvian government, the project has earned a little over $200,000 in seed money. If the fellows can show results with the new technique, they could earn additional resources to bring their idea to full development. 

Although these fellowships will end in October, Oberhelman says that the project has effectively launched the group into future careers. Tulane faculty members and other partners will continue to collaborate with them as they move forward. 

Dee Boling is director of communications for the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000