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Saturday, February 27th, 2021

NIH launches $1M prize challenge to encourage disease diagnostics

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Under the newly launched Technology Accelerator Challenge, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is offering $1 million for those capable of designing and developing handheld, digital technologies capable of detecting and diagnosing high impact diseases.

Bolstered by support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, such awards will be split between finalists: $500,000 will go to one winner, while the other $500,000 will be divided between approximately five semi-finalists. The Foundation will then separately review winners and honorable mentions and potentially offer them follow-on support, with another grant of up to $500,000 and/or consultations, clinical data collection partnerships, software development, scale-up efforts, and manufacturing. The end goal all around: encouraging products that can be rapidly developed.

“Bioengineers are pioneering the development of cutting-edge, cost-effective, mobile, and point-of-care technologies,” said Dr. Bruce Tromberg, director of the challenge-leading National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. “This challenge is an exciting way to engage and inspire our community to address an urgent health care need.”

This challenge will focus on sickle cell disease, malaria, and anemia. Each affects hundreds of thousands, even millions, annually. Diagnostics do exist for such things already, but they are not ideal for low-resource settings due to costs, invasiveness, and the tests’ required expertise levels for administering. The partners wish to create a platform technology that could rapidly screen large populations in an optimized and practical way, which is to say, portable, self-contained, low-cost, and target adaptable.

“New diagnostic tools could address a major burden of disease in low- and middle-income country settings,” Dan Wattendorf, Director of Innovative Technology Solutions for Global Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said. “Handheld, low-cost tools can bring testing out of a laboratory and to the point of need. Digitally enabled tools can help provide objective guidance for those administering a test, reducing procedural errors, and facilitating collection of more complete diagnostic information.”

Applications will be accepted through June 2, 2020.