The University of Tennessee Health Science Center Receives Grant for Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

Arash Shaban-Nejad
Arash Shaban-Nejad, PhD

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center announced today that Arash Shaban-Nejad, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, has received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Shaban-Nejad will pursue an innovative global health and development research project titled, “A Semantic Framework to Support Evolution and Interoperability.”

The Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) supports innovative thinkers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Dr. Shaban-Nejad is one of approximately 55 researchers from around the world who successfully demonstrated a bold idea in one of six critical global heath and development topic areas for the GCE Round 17.  Specifically, he is focused on the topic area “Design New Analytics Approaches for Malaria Elimination.”

Currently, there is no reliable mechanism to consistently manage changes in distributed dynamic malaria data sources in developing countries, causing access and use difficulties. Dr. Shaban-Nejad, along with a team of investigators, will develop an analytical framework to improve data and semantic interoperability, change management and evolution, and help integrate dynamic surveillance data from multiple sources and health systems to support real-time decision-making for malaria eradication and elimination. For malaria elimination, surveillance is described as the information flow that people use to make decisions about how to find malaria parasites, how to eliminate them from human populations, and how to prevent parasites from returning.

“Using Semantic Technologies, we are working to design a framework that can be used to manage evolution and interoperability of various health systems and combine information from numerous dynamic sources into a formal, consistent framework,” Dr. Shaban-Nejad said. “Focusing on African countries with different languages and different surveillance platforms, specifically Uganda and Gabon, we will analyze existing malaria data sources and generate a service ontology that enables data integration, and implement semantic web services to manage changes and evolution in distributed data sources. This will provide researchers with the tools to rapidly and more effectively make decisions concerning the fight against malaria.”

More than just malaria elimination, Dr. Shaban-Nejad says the framework could be applied to other vector-borne disease research.

“Malaria is one of the top 10 causes of death in developing countries,” Dr. Shaban-Nejad said. “Our approach is not limited to malaria or specific geographic areas, which in the future will allow for great strides to be made in surveillance for prevention, treatment and elimination of diseases in developing nations.”

Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, more than 1,228 projects in more than 65 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants.