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Gates Foundation Funds "Altruistic Vaccine" 259

QuantumG writes "The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $100,000 grant to the University of Queensland, Australia to develop a vaccine against dengue fever, a disease spread by mosquitoes. Unlike other vaccines, the 'altruistic vaccine' doesn't specifically protect the individual being bitten, but instead protects the community by stopping the transmission of the pathogen from one susceptible individual to another. The hope is to do this by effectively making their blood poisonous to mosquitoes, either killing them or at least preventing them from feeding on other individuals. Professor Paul Young explained how his work fell outside current scientific traditions and might lead to significant advances in global health — he said he could envision the vaccine being used around the world within 10 years, and it would be designed to be cheap and easy to implement."
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Gates Foundation Funds "Altruistic Vaccine"

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  • by unlametheweak ( 1102159 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:01AM (#27948481)

    I don't want to sound ungrateful or anything but is $100K really all that much considering how expensive it must be to do this kind of research?

    I could presume it is enough money to pay for the salary of the one researcher that was awarded this grant. It's not a lot of money, but Microsoft has spread their grants to other researchers working on other projects as well.

  • Re:Will this help? (Score:5, Informative)

    by IAR80 ( 598046 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:15AM (#27948555) Homepage
    Mosquitoes certainly have their role in the ecosystem and killing them will certainly have unforeseen consequences. More like in the Mao and sparrows story http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Sparrow_Campaign [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Will this help? (Score:5, Informative)

    by MjDelves ( 811950 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:28AM (#27948611) Journal
    Well actually yes this strategy is very sensible. I think you're not quite understanding the research. The vaccine doesn't stop you being bitten by mosquitoes, but would be designed to stop the virus infecting the mosquitoes. This breaks the cycle of infection and prevents many other people being infected. Yes that's little consolation for you, but in the long run, less people being infected does have a direct benefit for you.
  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:34AM (#27948645) Journal

    I don't know about you, but if you're going to vaccinate me, it sure would be nice if I was protected too. It might even provide an incentive for the not so altruistic.

  • Re:Problem (Score:5, Informative)

    by Your.Master ( 1088569 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @04:52AM (#27948701)

    You can eliminate it if you hit the herd immunity threshold: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herd_immunity [wikipedia.org]

    That requirement is essentially the same as for regular vaccines.

    As for risking mosquitoes evolving to smell the poisonous blood -- isn't that a best-case scenario? Where the immunity to spreading the disease is converted to an immunity to getting the disease because the vectors avoid the innoculated.

    The worst-case scenario basically leaves us back at square one with no loss and only a temporary gain.

  • YIDRC (Score:5, Informative)

    by maccallr ( 240314 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:05AM (#27948769) Homepage Journal
    From http://www.grandchallenges.org/Explorations/Pages/Introduction.aspx [grandchallenges.org]

    Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of $1 million or more.

  • by Eukariote ( 881204 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:28AM (#27948861)
    Watch the following video to learn more about the "altruistic vaccination" that the Gates Foundation is engaged in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7_xfUV4kSo [youtube.com]
  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @05:33AM (#27948875) Homepage
    "I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer."
    -- Benjamin Franklin, On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor, November 1766
  • Re:Repercussions? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Thiez ( 1281866 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @07:45AM (#27949459)

    > In the more immediate, what does this do to your liver?

    Well I guess that is what the research is for, right?

    > Longer term, what impact might this have on other insect populations?

    Well, since mosquitos can also feed on animals, most of them will never come in contact with the poison. I don't know how this will affect their natural predators (eating multiple poisoned mosquitos might have a negative effect on them, depending on the poison), but I assume they will investigate that too before they start handing out the stuff to everyone everywhere.

    > And will this impact negatively effect human populations?

    Well I guess that is what the research is for, right?

    > This approach is dangerous.

    Maybe. If we don't research we'll never find out. The whole thing would be dangerous if we were to give this stuff to everybody before having some idea to what the answers to your questions might be. But since thas hasn't been the way to do these things in science for some decades now, your whole post seems somewhat overrated, this last bit in particular.

  • Since a lot of people think the whole mercury and autism thing was invented out of whole cloth because their government told them so, you might also talk about how in order to receive any vaccinations from the Gates foundation you have to provide patent protection to pharmaceutical companies. No IP law? No vaccinations. This would not be true if they were genuinely trying to stamp out certain diseases; you can't stamp them out as long as you leave ground unstomped.

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @08:44AM (#27949799)

    Unlike other grants such as the NFS, the Gates foundation is very results driven. In essence Bill Gates is using the money just like in a business with the only exception the goal isn't to make more money to to have the best effect on humanity. So 100k grant to do some research (And this guy probably has other money, Money from the university that pays his salary and facilities) The 100k pays for tools and grad students (Who work cheap) to help with his research. Now with further study if it shows more of a success then he may get more. But if it is a dead end research the Gates Foundation is only down 100k vs. More.

  • by pz ( 113803 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:05AM (#27949967) Journal

    I don't want to sound ungrateful or anything but is $100K really all that much considering how expensive it must be to do this kind of research?

    I feel somewhat qualified to answer this accurately as I've been in the throes of grant proposal writing over the past six months, and have put together 4 large proposals, along with 6 smaller ones, all with budgets. I would not refuse $100k if someone were to offer the sum; far from it, as I would accept $100k with grateful humility. However, that does not mean it's a very large amount of money.

    $100k of direct costs gets you almost nothing. It's a pittance. It will cover the salary of one researcher for one year (with benefits) and have just enough left over to cover nominal laboratory costs (paper, pens, reagents, supplies, etc.) without any large equipment purchases to speak of. Often a given grant-writing researcher gets their salary paid off of more than one grant, so $100k might be stretched to 2 years of support if there is another source for salary.

    Now, normally the institution where the researcher works charges what is called overhead or indirect costs on a grant. This is a form of taxation that allows the institution to fund the infrastructure, keep the janitorial staff paid, the lights on, the phones on, the internet service on, the administration paid, etc. It typically runs 60-75% -- so when you talk about a $100k grant, the granting agency actually pays $170k to the institution, the institution takes $70k for overhead, and the researcher gets $100k to spend. Some foundations limit the overhead rate (also called F&A or Facilities and Administration) to 5% or 10%. I'm not familiar with what the Gates Foundation pays. But, quite often when a granting agency wants to boast about how big a grant is, they include the overhead costs. That probably isn't the case here, but if it is, $100k is even smaller in terms of what makes it to the researcher.

    Seriously, $100k in direct costs is an amount barely worth applying for given that granting rates are around 5-10% these days, and it takes at least 2 weeks, more likely 4 or 6, to generate a proper application. If it takes 4 weeks per application, and you spend one year doing nothing but applying for grants, the expected value needs to be well above enough to pay for 1 year of effort since you'll need to write more grants and have new results on which to base the new grant applications. If as a researcher, you are doing nothing but writing grants, you'll probably get 10 applications out the door per year. At a 10% success rate, that's one funded grant per year. That one needs to be enough money so you can take enough time off from writing grants to perform some research to get results before starting the grant writing cycle again while still having enough time to pay your salary while playing the 10% success rate game.

    Everyone in academic science hopes that things are going to get better under the Obama administration, we're all holding our collective breath actually, but the recent past has been the absolute worst time to be a researcher in the last 100 years.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:00AM (#27951223)

    I don't see why people give so much credence to the opinions of the 'founding fathers'. These were ultra-wealthy politicians who lived in their own world.

    And yet they risked it all by committing treason against the Crown. Had the colonies lost their war of independence, Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, et al would have been hanged or shot for their actions. Seems your American history classes must have left that out (or you willfully chose to ignore it)

  • by datababe72 ( 244918 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @02:01PM (#27953587)

    Well, the problem is that people have been trying for years to make standard vaccines against Dengue, and failing. If I remember properly, there are several different subtypes of the virus, and protecting against all is difficult, while protecting against only some has turned out to do more harm than good (Dengue is a disease that is more likely to have serious consequences the second time you get it, and an incomplete vaccine was found to function like a first infection in this regard).

    Yet Dengue is a very painful disease and one that causes a lot of harm in the regions of the world in which it is endemic. So a new approach is worth looking into.

  • by againjj ( 1132651 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @02:58PM (#27954597)

    So, the Founding Fathers of the USA obviously had some insight or something that the leaders of the French Revolution didn't.

    They had an existing working local government that never was destroyed. The American revolution got rid of the authority of a non-local governmental entity, but by and large left the day-to-day governance intact. The French revolution did not. There, the whole of the government was destroyed, leaving a power vacuum that was not truly filled until Napoleon managed to get a firm enough grip to keep the country together.

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