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‘Others talked, we took action’: The Trinity Challenge unveils eight inaugural prize-winners

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The Trinity Challenge has announced the winners of its inaugural competition, and is investing a £5.7million charitable pledged prize fund into one grand prize winner, two second prize winners and five third prize winners.

Participatory One Health Disease Detection is the inaugural prize winner for The Trinity Challenge and receives £1.3m in pledged funding
Participatory One Health Disease Detection is the inaugural prize winner for The Trinity Challenge and receives £1.3m in pledged funding

The University of Cambridge joined a coalition of some of the world’s leading businesses and academic and tech institutions to launch The Trinity Challenge in September 2020.

Convened by Dame Sally Davies, master of Trinity College, the challenge provides the prize fund for breakthrough solutions to ensure one billion more people are better protected against health emergencies.

The eight winners have been selected by an international panel of expert judges out of a total of 340 applications from 61 countries. The competition has seen unprecedented collaborations between the private, public, charitable and academic sectors, and will drive a step-change in using data and analytics for pandemic preparedness.

Participatory One Health Disease Detection (PODD), which empowers farmers to identify and report zoonotic diseases that could potentially pass from animals to humans, has been named the grand prize winner at the inaugural awards ceremony. The organisation is being awarded £1.3million in pledged funding.

Led by Susumpat Patipow, general director at OpenDream, PODD has developed a platform for livestock owners to report suspected animal illness, and in return receive veterinary care to improve animal health. If it appears a disease outbreak is likely, local health officials will quarantine the sick animals, saving the remaining livestock and possibly preventing the next Covid-19-type outbreak.

Having already achieved significant success in Thailand, with a network of 20,000 farmers helping to detect and control disease outbreaks, PODD is looking to expand its operations to Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Uganda and Vietnam over the next three years.

One of the second prize winners is BloodCounts! which is an international consortium of scientists led by Professor Carola-Bibiane Schönlieb from Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP).

Blood Counts! is a joint second prize winner in the inaugural Trinity Challenge
Blood Counts! is a joint second prize winner in the inaugural Trinity Challenge

BloodCounts! has developed an innovative infectious disease outbreak detection system using blood tests and AI to provide a ‘tsunami-like’ early warning system for new disease outbreaks.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic I have been developing AI-based methods to aid in medical decision making for COVID-19 patients, starting with analysis of Chest X-ray data,” said Dr Michael Roberts, who is affiliated with DAMTP and the Cambridge Mathematics of Information in Healthcare (CMIH) Hub. “Echoing the observations made by the clinical teams, we saw profound and unique differences in the medical measurements of infected individuals, particularly in their full blood count data. It is these changes that we can train models to detect at scale.”

The Sentinel Forecasting System is the other second prize winner, and will explore the emergence of new infectious diseases in West Africa, beginning with Lassa fever.

The system will combine data from ecology, social science, genomics and epidemiology to provide real-time disease risk for haemorrhagic fevers such as Lassa and Ebola.

The UCL team will partner with the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in Nigeria, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Zoological Society of London, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Microsoft, and Cambridge’s Laboratory of Viral Zoonotics (LVZ) to produce the system.

“This Trinity Challenge project brings new multidisciplinary technologies together to anticipate climatic, human, animal population, agricultural impacts on the likelihood of spill overs of infections from animals to humans,” said Professor Jonathan Heeney, who leads LVZ at Cambridge’s Department of Veterinary Medicine.

The Sentinel Forecasting System is one of two second prize winners
The Sentinel Forecasting System is one of two second prize winners

Each of the second prize winners is awarded £1million in pledged funding.

Additionally, five third prize winners are each being awarded £480,000 in pledged funding.

Dame Sally said: “It was crystal clear at the beginning of this pandemic that the world had a lack of data, a lack of access to data, and a lack of interoperability of data, presenting a challenge.

“While others talked, we took action. The solutions we have discovered in the course of the challenge will be a link between systems and countries.”

In addition to financial support, The Trinity Challenge will provide connections to the right organisations to maximise the impact of these solutions. Since its inception nine months ago, TTC has united early applicants with partners from the private, academic and social sectors to receive access to digital platforms, data, and technical advice, to scale-up the use of data and analytics to protect the world from future health emergencies.

The Trinity Challenge has helped form more than 200 connections between applicants and its members.

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