Thanks to a new initiative to stimulate bold approaches to global health, Keith Jerome will have a year and $100,000 to see whether his idea for curing HIV has promise.

Share story

Keith Jerome has an idea for curing HIV that is both unorthodox and untested, which usually means it doesn’t get funded.

But thanks to a new initiative to stimulate bold approaches to global health, the University of Washington researcher will have a year and $100,000 to see whether his idea has promise.

Jerome is one of 104 researchers around the world, including four from the UW, to receive the first Grand Challenges Explorations grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation has committed $100 million over five years for the program, aimed at lowering the barriers for testing innovative approaches to diseases affecting the world’s poor.

Grants went to universities, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and private companies in 22 countries.

“This grant is just for ideas and things off the beaten path,” Jerome said. “Institutions like NIH [National Institutes of Health] are often looking for things that are more conservative, more traditional, farther along. When you have an idea like this, it’s hard to get it going.”

Jerome is working on using a new class of proteins that he thinks may recognize and cut the DNA sequences unique to HIV, rendering them inactive. Instead of targeting the HIV virus in the blood, as drug treatments do, the protein would attack HIV at its source — in chromosomes — and disable the blueprints so it could not replicate, he said.

Jerome, associate professor in laboratory medicine, is working with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The Gates initiative is meant to encourage bolder and less conventional solutions and ideas that have never before been tested, said Tachi Yamada, president of global health at the Gates Foundation. The very first vaccines were developed more than 200 years ago based on revolutionary thinking and an entirely new approach to preventing disease.

The projects funded covered a range of offbeat concepts, including a “mosquito flashlight” to prevent malaria transmission by disrupting wavelengths; self-destructing tuberculosis cells; and anti-infective properties of the eye to help prevent HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

For Jerome, the Gates grant is just a start. “We’d like to show that it’s got promise and then go on to other places,” he said. “The pathway from an idea to something we can take to a clinic to help patients … that’s years.”

The other local grant winners are Dmitry Shayakhmetov, an assistant research professor of medical genetics; Pradipsinh K. Rathod, professor of chemistry; and Francois Baneyx, professor of chemical engineering, all from the UW; and James Kublin of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Applications for the second round of grants are being accepted through Nov. 2, and topics for the third round will be announced early next year.

More information:

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or