UNC epidemiology faculty member to lead groundbreaking research in global health and development funded by a Grand Challenges Explorations grant to Hospital de Câncer de Barretos in Brazil

May 27, 2016

The University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health announced today that one of its faculty members is a principal investigator for a Grand Challenges Explorations Grant, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Jennifer S. Smith, PhD, MPH, director of the Cervical Cancer-Free Coalition at UNC Gillings, associate professor of epidemiology, and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project to determine the effectiveness of a urine-based, cervical cancer screening tool.

Jennifer Smith, PhD

Jennifer Smith, PhD

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. Smith’s project, funded at $100,000, is one of more than 40 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To receive funding, Smith and other Grand Challenges Explorations grantees demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas. Laura Musselwhite, MD, from Duke University and José Humberto Fregnani, MD, from Hospital de Câncer de Barretos in Brazil are Smith’s partners on the project.

Investigators from UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, and Barretos Cancer Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, will perform a proof-of-concept study in Brazil to determine the effectiveness of a urine-based, cervical cancer screening tool.

More than 250,000 women die from cervical cancer each year, with Brazil having the third most cervical cancer deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates this number will double in the next 15 years. Cervical cancer deaths are largely preventable; however, the vast majority of women who die from the disease were never screened.

The researchers will be working with a screening kit that resembles a home-based pregnancy test and can be used without medical assistance. The test will screen for the presence of the E6 protein in a woman’s urine. Human papilloma virus 16 and 18, which are known causes of cervical cancer, produce the E6 protein.

Smith said the anticipated advantages of the proposed cervical cancer screening tool are that it would be a low-cost and simple to process; easy to use and self-interpret, offering a clear signal for follow-up; and potential accurate assessment of women at higher risk of high-grade lesions and cervical cancer.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, over 1186 projects in more than 61 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.


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu