The rapid growth of Zika virus has yet to be met with a large scientific response. This deadly virus poses many urgent and challenging scientific questions. In an effort to encourage researchers to examine this research question, we’re facilitating a challenge grant.

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Submitted Projects


Total Funding


Submission Deadline

Mar 15, 2016

About This Grant

Over the past few months, 48 countries across four continents have reported cases of Zika Virus. The rapid spread of Zika is expected to continue. In predicting and studying the spread of this vector-borne disease, it's expected to match the full range of the mosquito vector Aedes aegypti, as well as the Asian Tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus.

Roughly $100M is currently spent on flaviviruses per year, which we estimate means that only 100 PI's are working on it. No new funds have yet been issued from federal funders for Zika Virus.

There is an urgent need to understand Zika's role in the neurological disorders Guillain-Barre syndrome and microcephaly. Our current understanding of the relationship is circumstantial but a growing body of evidence is pointing to a causal role for Zika Virus.

To tackle this scientific challenge, we're highlighting the following areas of study:

Outbreak Causes

Zika was first documented as a viral infectious agent in the rhesus macaque in 1947, but the sudden rise of the virus has not yet been linked to a single location or vector. We're looking for new approaches to understanding the cause of Zika's rapid rise, examining the biological transmission mechanism.

In addition, we're particularly interested in approaches using diverse data science, geography, or climate science modeling.


Experiments studying the primary vectors of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus on the ground are urgently needed, as well as more about the emergence of sexual transmission and mother-to-child transmission. In addition, we are interested in cross-species transmission and host-virus interaction.


Developing new rapid diagnostics tests, improving on current methods based on RT-PCR or rapid ELISA tests. We're especially interested in cheap or massively-scalable methods.


The U.S. government has declared that they are not working on a vaccine because they are prioritizing mother / child health and mosquito population control. We'd like to see proposals for new therapeutic targets, including cell-mediated and innate immunity. In particular, looking at the relationship to other flavoviruses, e.g. Dengue or Chikungunya fever.

We're also interested in drug repurposing trials, looking at pre-approved targets and candidate mechanisms.

For predicted targets and therapeutics, we are partnering with Atomwise ( for rapid target prediction services.


Active monitoring and on-the-ground operations is an area for massive improvement. Global health and/or public policy research to improve the collection and analysis of health data has been highlighted as a major need by WHO.


Containment and prevention methods currently overlap with many other tropical diseases, but we are looking for new ideas that are cheap and scalable, with the goal of mosquito population control.

In addition, research ideas involving education, geography, and social sciences are encouraged. Measuring how much is currently known about Zika Virus in affected locales seems like a good starting point.

Data Aggregation

There is currently a lot of data, but none of it has been well consolidated. Challenges here include aggregating live data from rapid communications and platform maintainability.

Another unmet challenge is quickly translating data sets that come from multiple different languages. As new data comes from the international community, building tools to syndicate that data would dramatically improve the global response.

Long-term Impact & Modeling

Research in the sociological and anthropological impact modeling and behavior prediction is needed. Modeling the spread and distribution over time scales accurately involving different approaches of climate science, geography, and ecology.

Data science platforms or crowd-sourced experiments seem like potentially impactful low-cost projects.


Mosquito nets are basically the only reliable and effective tool available for prevention today. Research ideas with new and different hardware methods should aim to be cheap, scalable, and effective. Open-source or 3D-printed solutions are encouraged.

In addition, hardware and biochemistry approaches for rapid detection is also of interest.

References & Resources:

CDC Active List of Countries With Zika Virus Timeline of News Data

BuzzFeedNews Data Repository

WHO Strategic Response Framework

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