Researchers have been working for decades to develop a mechanism by which beneficial genetic changes can be spread rapidly through a population of vector mosquitoes (a technology sometimes termed “gene drive”) to create a low-cost, sustainable tool for controlling disease transmission. The envisioned goal in this context is to reduce or locally eliminate vector mosquitoes or, alternatively, to render them less competent to transmit pathogens; either of these outcomes would contribute to the reduction of infectious diseases. For example, gene drive promises to be a useful tool to reduce or eliminate the global burden of malaria, which still kills more than 400,000 children annually.
Until recently, the technical methods attempted to achieve gene drive either did not work in mosquitoes or were difficult to implement. However, the CRISPR/Cas system, a naturally occurring gene editing platform derived from bacteria, has now provided a widely accessible and versatile molecular tool for creating gene drives. Although not yet optimized, mosquitoes with CRISPR/Cas-based gene drives have already been developed in the laboratory with the eventual intent of moving this technology to field testing.
In 2018, the FNIH wrapped up a year-long effort to generate consensus recommendations for the safe and ethical testing of gene drive modified mosquitoes intended to reduce the burden of malaria transmission in Africa. These consensus recommendations were developed over three multidisciplinary workshops, involving more than 40 internationally recognized experts spanning a variety of relevant fields of study. Workshop participants recommended a phased pathway for the responsible development of gene drive mosquito products, from initial discovery Research to field testing to implementation. This included in-depth considerations of safety and efficacy testing, risk assessment, ethics, engagement and regulatory requirements at each phase of the pathway. These make recommendations intended to inform Researchers, funders, regulators and other government authorities, policy makers and international organizations about the needs for conducting safe and ethical Research for gene drive-modified mosquitoes.
- To develop consensus recommendations on the implications of gene drive modification for each phase of testing.
Results & Accomplishments
- Pathway to Deployment of Gene Drive Mosquitoes as a Potential Biocontrol Tool for Elimination of Malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa: Recommendations of a Scientific Working Group. James, et al., Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg., 98(Suppl 6), 2018.
- Symposium: Pathway to Deployment of Gene Drive Mosquitoes as a Potential Biocontrol Tool for Elimination of Malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa, ASTMH Annual Meeting, October 30, 2018 in New Orleans, LA USA.