UNC Lineberger researcher to study cervical cancer screening tool through Grand Challenges Explorations Grant

UNC Lineberger member Jennifer S. Smith, PhD, MPH, director of the Cervical Cancer-Free Coalition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and associate professor of epidemiology, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project to determine the effectiveness of a urine-based, cervical cancer screening tool under a Grand Challenges Exploration Grant, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

UNC Lineberger researcher to study cervical cancer screening tool through Grand Challenges Explorations Grant click to enlarge Jennifer S. Smith, PhD, MPH, is director of the Cervical Cancer-Free Coalition at UNC Gillings, associate professor of epidemiology, and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center have announced that one of their researchers 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 UNC Lineberger, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project to determine the effectiveness of a urine-based, cervical cancer screening tool.

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 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. The foundation will be accepting applications for the next GCE round in September 2016.

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.