What do the French Family Science Center, DukeEngage and University HIV/AIDS research centers have in common?

Melinda Gates and global health.

Melinda French Gates, Trinity '86, Fuqua '87 and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has retained an active influence on her alma mater's global health priorities since she left her position as a member of Duke's Board of Trustees in 2003.

Gates Foundation spokesperson Marie Groark said about 50 percent of the foundation's funds are allocated for reducing health inequities throughout the world, while the rest of the funding goes toward civil engagement and education programs.

Recent financial gifts from the Gates Foundation to Duke for the FFSC, DukeEngage and the Financial Aid Initiative resulted from conversations with the benefactors, President Richard Brodhead said.

"I communicate regularly with Melinda Gates and have met with her during visits to the Pacific Northwest. She is interested in Duke's priorities and, as with [former] President [Nan] Keohane, she has shared her thoughts on those priorities with me," Brodhead said.

Such priorities include achieving the goals set forth in the University's strategic plan, "Making a Difference," and furthering advances in global health initiatives.

The Gates Foundation and strategic priorities

Duke's new strategic plan "Making a Difference," approved in October 2006, aims to invest $1.3 billion above normal budgets throughout the next five to eight years in students, faculty, programming and facilities.

The top goals of the plan include attracting and retaining outstanding faculty, deepening undergraduate and graduate students' engagement in education, improving the campus with new and improved facilities, strengthening the arts and recommitting to diversity and access to education.

And the newly opened FFSC-which supports undergraduate laboratory education in biology and chemistry and faculty research in biology, chemistry and physics-will help achieve goals of the strategic plan, said John Simon, vice provost for academic affairs and George B. Geller professor of chemistry.

"The facility has been central to attracting outstanding faculty to Duke. One example of this is [Professor] Warren S. Warren in chemistry," Simon wrote in an e-mail. "The education laboratories in [the] Gross Chemistry [Building] were significantly out of date. The undergraduate labs in FFSC enable us to put forth the type of curricular offerings consistent with the aspirations in 'Making a Difference.'"

After it was originally designated the French Science Center in 2003, the Board of Trustees voted in 2006 to change the name in order to "acknowledge the ongoing support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and express to the Gates Family [the Board's] gratitude and appreciation."

The Gates Foundation donated $30 million for the building and $5 million for student life initiatives in 2002.

"Melinda French Gates is a wise and visionary leader at her alma mater. We're grateful not only for the resources provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but also for Melinda's personal leadership in helping us shape and implement university priorities," Keohane said when announcing the foundation's gift.

Groark said the Gates Foundation's scholarship donations, such as those for DukeEngage and the Financial Aid Initiative, span all three of the foundation's priority areas-global health, civic engagement and education.

"[The Gates Foundation is] building the next generation of leaders to gain an interest in and expertise in helping to solve these problems," Groark said.

Global health support at Duke

Funding for the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology falls specifically within the global health sector of the Gates Foundation's priorities, Groark said.

In 2003, CHAVI Director Dr. Barton Haynes and several other global health professionals, including Rick Klausner, then research director of the Gates Foundation, called for a new effort to speed the progress of a preventive AIDS vaccine.

"What followed was a process whereby the Gates Foundation made a partnership with the [National Institutes of Health] and they went together to the [international forum] G8 leaders and got their blessing for the effort," Haynes said.

The federal government committed $300 million, and the Gates Foundation put in $287 million for the effort. The U.S. grant was designated for the creation of CHAVI at Duke, and Haynes was named its principal investigator following a peer-reviewed competition.

At the same time, the Gates Foundation held a peer-reviewed grant competition for its $287 million, which went to support 16 HIV vaccine research centers worldwide as part of the foundation's Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise.

Duke received two of the centers-one for Haynes and one for professor of experimental surgery David Montefiori, co-director of the laboratory for immune measurements.

After a difficult application process, Haynes received the Gates Foundation grant in August 2006, he said.

"My Gates grant is to focus on figuring out how to induce the right kind of antibody to make a vaccine," Haynes said. "David Montefiori's center is a central laboratory to test everyone's vaccines that are developed."

In order to receive a grant from the Gates Foundation, an organization must submit a proposal, Groark said. Then the strategy of the proposal, as well as the leadership of the organization, is evaluated by the Gates Foundation.

Haynes said CHAVI plans to apply for funding for the clinical trials of the new vaccines within three years.

"[The next step is to] perform studies of our vaccine candidates in monkeys to determine if they make protective antibodies," he said.

The Global Health Institute, a partner of CHAVI, opened at Duke in November 2006.

Although the institute has not applied for funding from the Gates Foundation, GHI Director Dr. Michael Merson has a personal grant from the Gates Foundation that he brought with him to Duke from his former position at Yale University.

"[The Gates Foundation] tends to give support to projects in developing countries," Merson said. "They have a number of priority areas, such as HIV."

With his grant, Merson works with a project that aims to empower female sex workers in Andhra Pradesh, a southern state in India heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS.

"Sex workers are afraid to ask their partners to wear condoms because they are afraid they won't want to have sex with them," Merson said. "[The Gates-funded project] educates them to give them the knowledge and wisdom to insist their partners use a condom."