UO receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for research in Global Health and Development

EUGENE, Ore. — (Nov. 20, 2013) — The University of Oregon announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Richard ChartoffRichard Chartoff, research professor in the University of Oregon Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and director of the Polymer Characterization and Thermal Analysis Laboratory at the Center for Advanced Materials Characterization in Oregon (CAMCOR), will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled "High Strength, Ultrathin Adaptable Condoms for Enhanced Sensitivity."

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Chartoff's project is one of more than 80 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 11 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To receive funding, Chartoff and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 11 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included development of the next generation condom, agriculture development, and neglected tropical diseases.

Chartoff's research will develop a new material utilizing adaptive polymers that are capable of changing shape when activated by heat. Condoms designed with the new material would be stronger and less than half the thickness of the best current condoms and would conform to the appropriate size for each individual. In an effort to combat the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the material would also accommodate nanoparticles containing drugs designed to combat sexually transmitted bacteria and viruses.

Chartoff — an expert in polymer research and manufacturing as well as nanomaterials, with experience translating research into marketable products — says the technology his team is working on has the potential to make a difference. Condoms enjoy worldwide recognition, even in resource-poor regions of the world; however, it is estimated that only 750 million people worldwide currently use them as a means to prevent pregnancy and protect both partners from STDs.

The Grand Challenges award will fund research to enhance sensitivity and increase the strength and reliability of condoms and promote an effort to overcome cultural barriers to increase the uptake of condoms as a means to protect both partners.

Chartoff and his research team are developing an international collaboration on the same topic with professor Béla Pukánszky, a well-known scientist at the Laboratory of Plastics and Rubber Technology in the Department of Physical Chemistry and Material Science at Budapest University of Technology and Economics in Hungary. Pukánszky has expertise in polymers and bio-medical applications of polyurethanes.

The University of Oregon received its first Grand Challenges Explorations Grant earlier this year for research currently being conducted by Janis Weeks, professor in the University of Oregon Department of Biology, involving the implementation of a neurophysiology-based technology to accelerate discovery of drugs to eliminate intestinal worm infections, specifically human soil-transmitted helminthic (STH) infections.
About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 850 researchers in more than 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. 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 US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

About the University of Oregon
The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of "Very High Research Activity" in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.

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