Science innovators looking for funding can compete for prizes totaling up to $500,000 by developing new ways to track the health status of a single cell in complex tissue over time. The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) “Follow that Cell” challenge aims to generate creative ideas and methods for following and predicting a single cell’s behavior and function over time in a complex multicellular environment. NIH seeks tools that would, for example, monitor a cell in the process of becoming cancerous, detect changes due to a disease-causing virus, or track how a cell responds to treatment.

The challenge is issued under America COMPETES, by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), on behalf of the NIH Common Fund’s Single Cell Analysis Program (SCAP).

The first phase of the challenge began today. It asks for theoretical, written solutions, which are due by December 15, 2014. Submissions will be screened by panels of outside and NIH staff experts prior to review by a three-judge panel consisting of the NIMH, NIBIB, and DPCPSI directors, who will award up to six prizes totaling $100,000, to be announced March 16, 2015.

Phase one winners and runners-up will be eligible to participate in the second phase to provide proof of concept data related to their initial entries. One or two winning solutions will receive prizes totaling $400,000, to be announced July 31, 2017.

InnoCentive is hosting and marketing the challenge under contract with NIH. While only citizens or permanent residents of the United States are eligible to compete individually as solvers, noncitizens may participate as a member of a team.

Although several grant-supported studies exploring these issues are underway, SCAP said it sought to stimulate efforts beyond academia among a more diverse community than researchers who typically apply for NIH grants. “We believe that combining the immense brainpower of scientists, engineers, and innovators will propel the development of the next generation of single cell analysis, galvanizing this field,” said James Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIH’s division of program coordination, planning, and strategic initiatives (DPCPSI). “These prizes will also help to stimulate new businesses and economic growth in our biomedical communities.”

To register for the challenge or for more information, click here

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