UAB receives Grand Challenges Explorations funding

With a grant from the Gates Foundation, UAB researchers will target a bacteria blamed for birth defects in the Indian subcontinent.

gates_storyThe University of Alabama at Birmingham announced today that it will receive funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent health and development challenges. Mohammad Khaled, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the Department of Nutrition Sciences in the School of Health Professions, will pursue an innovative global health research project, titled “Healthy Growth of Infants by Treating Maternal Anemia.”

Grand Challenges Explorations funds scientists and researchers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Khaled’s project is one of 110 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced today.

“We believe in the power of innovation — that a single bold idea can pioneer solutions to our greatest health and development challenges,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Grand Challenges Explorations seeks to identify and fund these new ideas wherever they come from, allowing scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs to pursue the kinds of creative ideas and novel approaches that could help to accelerate the end of polio, cure HIV infection or improve sanitation.”

Projects that are receiving funding show promise in tackling priority global health issues for which solutions do not yet exist. This includes finding effective methods to eliminate or control infectious diseases such as polio and HIV and discovering new sanitation technologies.

To learn more about Grand Challenges Explorations, visit

Khaled, along with W. Timothy Garvey, M.D., chair of the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences, will target helicobacter pylori infection in women of child-bearing age in India. H. pylori is endemic in the Indian subcontinent; as many as 85 percent of adults are infected with the bacteria. H. pylori also is found in about 50 percent of African-Americans.

Infection can contribute to malnutrition and lead to maternal anemia or iron deficiencies. The bacteria also inhibit iron supplementation from boosting iron levels. Low iron is a leading cause of low-birth-weight babies with an increased risk for birth defects.

Khaled’s team will recruit non-pregnant women of child-bearing age who are H. pylori positive and administer an aggressive regimen of three antibiotics during the course of a week. The goal is to see if clearing the infection will improve iron levels and cause iron supplementation to be more effective. If successful, the approach could lead to a feasible way to reduce the incidence of birth defects in populations with a high incidence of H. pylori infection.