You are here

Weill Cornell Medical College Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Grant For Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

WCM placeholder

NEW YORK (June 3, 2014) — Weill Cornell Medical College announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Jennifer Downs, an assistant professor of medicine at the Weill Cornell Center for Global Health, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled "From Obstacles to Opportunities for Male Circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa."

Dr. Jennifer Downs

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. Dr. Downs' project is one of over 50 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 12 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To receive funding, Dr. Downs's team and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 12 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, behavior change and looking into animal and human health. Applications for the next round will be accepted starting September 2014.

Using $100,000 over 18 months, Dr. Downs' project will measure the effectiveness of church-based educational programs in promoting male circumcision in Tanzania. Male circumcision is one of the most effective means of HIV prevention in countries in which the prevalence of the AIDS-causing virus is high; in Tanzania, the prevalence of HIV is greater than 5 percent, and an estimated 1.5 million people are infected. Dr. Downs and her colleagues previously demonstrated that the practice of male circumcision in Tanzania is strongly determined by religious and tribal norms, and that church attendees are eager to learn about it. The project has the potential to prevent approximately 200,000 new HIV infections in that country alone, based on recent estimates that one new HIV infection is averted for every 5-15 male circumcisions performed, Dr. Downs said. She will partner with grant co-investigators Dr. Samuel Kalluvya of Bugando Medical Centre, Rev. Agrey Mwakisole of PAG Tanzania, and Dr. David Downs of Fuller Theological Seminary on the project.

"In Tanzania and other African countries in which male circumcision is being advocated for HIV risk reduction, promoting the practice within religious communities is a potent opportunity to augment its acceptance," Dr. Downs said. "This grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation allows us to explore the hypothesis that rates of uptake of male circumcision can be significantly increased in villages in which male circumcision is coupled with church-based teaching and practice, compared with villages in which churches are not involved."

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 950 people in more than 55 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.

Weill Cornell Medical College

Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University's medical school located in New York City, is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine, locally, nationally and globally. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research from bench to bedside, aimed at unlocking mysteries of the human body in health and sickness and toward developing new treatments and prevention strategies. In its commitment to global health and education, Weill Cornell has a strong presence in places such as Qatar, Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Through the historic Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Cornell University is the first in the U.S. to offer a M.D. degree overseas. Weill Cornell is the birthplace of many medical advances -- including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer, the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, and most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain- injured patient. Weill Cornell Medical College is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, where its faculty provides comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The Medical College is also affiliated with Houston Methodist. For more information, visit

Weill Cornell Medicine
Office of External Affairs
1300 York Ave.
Box 314
New York, NY 10065 Phone: (646) 962-9564