Colorado State University Rice Bran Researcher Receives Phase II Grand Challenges Explorations Funding

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$1 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant a major research investment

FORT COLLINS – Colorado State University announced today that it will receive Phase II funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables individuals worldwide to test bold ideas to address persistent health and development challenges.

Elizabeth Ryan, an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, will continue to pursue an innovative global health research project, titled “Studying How Rice Bran Augments Mucosal Immunity.”

Ryan will use the $1 million grant to study rice bran’s ability to fight off multiple gut pathogens such as Salmonella and Rotovirus that contribute to significant morbidity and mortality of many children around the world. Rice bran – the discarded brown covering on white rice grains – has untapped health properties that could help millions of people, Ryan said.

“The number of kids who are dying of diarrhea around the world every day deserves rigorous research attention with practical, wide-reaching solutions – there are so many pathogens, and over time it wears on your gut, immunity and ability to grow,” Ryan said. “It’s very hard to vaccinate against all these bugs at the exposure levels that exist.”

Colorado State University recently was recognized by Best Colleges Online as one of the 15 top universities in the nation fighting world hunger.

In 2010, Ryan was awarded a Phase I grant for her program. Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) Phase I recognizes individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and persistent global health and development challenges. GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to solve the problems people in the developing world face every day. Phase II recognizes those ideas that have made significant progress toward implementation.

Ryan’s project is one of the Phase II Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced earlier this month.

“Investments in innovative global health research are already paying off,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’re excited that we consistently receive so many surprising ideas from around the world and that we’re able to provide a second round of funding for some of the most unconventional among them.”

Ryan, who is based in Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, will also identify and test bran from rice varieties around the globe with her co-principal investigators: Professor Steve Dow, who is Clinical Sciences and a leader in mucosal immunology, and University Distinguished Professor Jan Leach in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Earlier this year, these researchers published a paper in the scientific, peer-reviewed journal BMC Microbiology showing that whole rice bran supplementation to the diet reduced susceptibility of mice to infection with a specific strain of Salmonella and potentially via induction of healthy gut bacteria known as Lactobacillus. The paper is available at

“We’ve shown that rice bran can inhibit colonization of Salmonella in the gut as well as induce mucosal immunity,” Ryan said. “Rice bran has chemical and pre-biotic properties that could have tremendous global health impact by basically preventing and reducing the severity of diarrheal infections.”

Whole grain brown rice from select varieties have long been used for anti-inflammatory properties in Ryan’s native India as part of a medicinal system known as Ayurveda. Furthermore, the bran could protect the human gut from disease much like it protects the rice grain from pests and microbes in the fields, Ryan said. The one caveat is that the bran must be heat stabilized immediately after it’s polished off the grain – this would extend its shelf life for human consumption and even its current use as feed for pigs and cattle.

Rice varieties have been improved largely for agricultural growing purposes, but not for health purposes. But she’s working with Leach, one of the world’s authorities on rice and how plants defend themselves against pathogens, to ensure studies focus on varieties that farmers are planting.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, more than 700 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.