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Laura Woollett, PhD (center), with Sandra Rebholz and Thomas Jones, of UC's Metabolic Diseases Institute on the UC Reading Campus.

Laura Woollett, PhD (center), with Sandra Rebholz and Thomas Jones, of UC's Metabolic Diseases Institute on the UC Reading Campus.
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Publish Date: 05/10/12
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Woollett Awarded Grant to Study Relationship Between Maternal Cholesterol and Fetal Growth

Laura Woollett, PhD, professor in the UC Department of Pathology, has been awarded a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for a study of maternal cholesterol and its connection to fetal growth.

She will partner with Andrew Prentice, PhD, and Sophie Moore, PhD, of the MRC International Nutrition Group in The Gambia, for a project titled "Improving Fetal Growth Rates in Developing Countries.” Together, they will work to determine whether or not cholesterol is actually a beneficial factor that helps a fetus to grow normally during gestation.

Fetuses that grow slowly (called intrauterine growth restriction or IUGR), says Woollett, have an increased risk of infection, disease and even mortality, which she adds, becomes "of paramount importance in developing countries where 90 percent of the world’s IUGR infants are born.” 

"Maternal cholesterol has been overlooked as a factor limiting fetal growth in poor populations with very low plasma cholesterol levels,” says Woollett. "We propose that it may be possible to reduce the number of low birth weight infants through maternal supplements with adequate nutrition and cholesterol. This study is the first step toward this goal, in that we will determine the relationship between the cholesterol levels of the mothers and the size of their newborns.”

Woollett’s team will test the feasibility of their hypothesis in placentas and plasma of mice and humans with normal and growth-restricted babies.

Grand Challenges Explorations funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Woollett’s project is one of over 100 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 grants announced May 9 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

"Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We’re excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea towards global impact.”

To receive funding, Woollett and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 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, immunization and nutrition.

Woollett is the second UC researcher to receive Grand Challenges Explorations funds. In 2010, Giovanni Pauletti, PhD, of UC’s James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy, was awarded a $100,000 Grand Challenges Exploration grant to support research and development of a foam-based insert that rapidly dissolves in the vaginal cavity forming a protective layer that then helps guard against both unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, specifically HIV/AIDS. Read more about Pauletti’s award.

Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9, will be accepted through May 15, 2012. 

About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Launched in 2008, over 600 people in 45 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 $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.

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