What GeneConvene does
GeneConvene advances best practices and informed decision making for development of genetic biocontrol technologies to improve public health. GeneConvene offers technical information, advice, training and coordination for research on gene drive and other genetic biocontrol technologies.
Building on more than 10 years of work by the FNIH on genetic biocontrol approaches for public health, the GeneConvene team is experienced with important technical, regulatory and policy issues. Learn more about working with GeneConvene to advance the responsible exploration of genetic biocontrol tools.
GeneConvene currently focuses on exploration of the potential of gene drive technologies to combat mosquito-borne diseases, particularly malaria transmission by Anopheles mosquitoes in Africa. Contact us to support these activities or to discuss opportunities for GeneConvene to address other potential applications of genetic biocontrol technologies for public health.
Motivation and need for the GeneConvene Global Collaborative
Efforts to control the spread of mosquito-borne diseases save hundreds of thousands of lives every year, but the tools and resources available are not sufficient to protect everyone. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2018, there were 228 million cases of malaria and 405,000 deaths attributable to the disease, most of which were children under 5. More than half of the world’s population lives in areas where mosquitoes carry viruses with epidemic potential. Given the extent of the human suffering and financial hardship these diseases cause, there is an urgent need to evaluate new prevention tools.
Genetic biocontrol technologies, including gene drive approaches, are attractive because they have the potential to be highly cost effective. Moreover, they do not require behavior change or investment of time and money from at-risk communities and individuals. Although biocontrol is a well-established strategy for pest management (introducing lady beetles to control aphids in the garden is one example), genetic biocontrol has only recently become possible. Like all new tools, it is important that it be safely, ethically and rigorously evaluated. Yet while there are established procedures for evaluating tools like vaccines, medicines and insecticides, similar procedures must still be developed for genetic biocontrol. The GeneConvene Global Collaborative was created to help fill that gap.
GeneConvene works to:
- Ensure that genetic biocontrol research addresses important public health priorities ethically, safely and effectively
- Support the development of genetic biocontrol governance frameworks that are rigorous and well-implemented at local, national, regional and international levels
- Distribute timely and accurate information to help all stakeholders make informed and responsible decisions
Identifying and Addressing Key Questions
- Anticipate key questions that will need to be addressed
- Respond proactively, working with international experts to identify answers and solutions
Providing Technical Advice
- Scope scientific, regulatory and policy landscapes
- Support independent risk assessment
- Advise stakeholders on relevant issues and available resources
Strengthening Capacity and Sharing Information
- Provide technical training and information to scientists, regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders and publics
- Facilitate communication within and among stakeholder groups
How GeneConvene works
Partner with Stakeholders:
- Coordinate meaningful engagement and effective collaboration among stakeholder
Listen and Assess:
- Consider and take into account needs expressed by a wide range of stakeholders
Convene and Facilitate:
- Bring together experts with diverse knowledge and perspectives to enable broad exchange of ideas and address important issues.
Aggregate and Analyze:
- Collect and synthesize information into accessible guidance and recommendations
Share and Advise:
- Disseminate understanding through publications, presentations, meetings and trainings
As a neutral body, GeneConvene does not:
- Conduct research to develop, test or implement gene drive or other genetic biocontrol products;
- Fund such research directly or make decisions for funders;
- Monitor compliance with accepted guidelines and regulations by genetic biocontrol research and development programs;
- Participate in preparation or review of regulatory dossiers for genetic biocontrol products;
- Create policy or regulations governing the development or use of genetic biocontrol technologies; or
- Promote or advocate for specific genetic biocontrol products.
Mission, Vision and Core Values
To support coordination among stakeholders that enables the development and dissemination of scientifically rigorous information, consensus best practices guidance and standards, and administrative, regulatory and technical advice and train.
An environment in which gene drive and other genetic biocontrol technologies for public health can be safely, ethically and rigorously studied, developed, tested, and, if warranted by appropriate decision makers, responsibly implemented at appropriate scale to have positive health impact
Deemed trustworthy in all plans and actions, and with all stakeholders; serving the public interest; information and output shared broadly as a public resource
Forward-thinking to pave the way as technology advances; prepared for risks to avoid or respond to crises
Openness in plans, actions, decision-making and data
Not advocating on behalf of any stakeholder or product
Supportive of a rigorous scientific process for gene drive development; credible source of evidence-based information on the science for all stakeholders
Seeks effective partners, supporters and stakeholders; inclusive incorporation of voices from diverse stakeholders to reach consensus
The GeneConvene Global Collaborative is staffed by a team of experienced technical, regulatory and administrative experts providing a resource for accurate and timely information, advice and support to foster a responsible approach to research and governance of gene drive and other genetic biocontrol technologies for public health. The team is located in Maryland and Michigan, USA, and Nairobi, Kenya.
Brinda Dass, Ph.D.
- Scientific Program Manager, Policy Lead for Gene Drive Research, Science, FNIH
- Dr. Dass has a Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology, an MPH and extensive experience in transgenic laboratory animal care and use, preclinical drug testing, clinical trial management, and review of new animal drug dossiers for genetically engineered products.
- Project Manager, Science, FNIH
- Ms. Hoffstetter has experience providing organizational support and managing complex projects, including for a not-for-profit organization focused on stabilization initiatives in conflict zones and local commercial enterprises investment projects.
Stephanie James, Ph.D.
- Senior Scientific Advisor, FNIH
- Dr. James has a Ph.D. in microbiology and a background in research on parasitic diseases. She has more than 30 years of experience in research administration, having led global health programs at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH, the Ellison Medical Foundation and the FNIH.
David O’Brochta, Ph.D.
- Scientific Program Manager, Technical Lead for Gene Drive Research, Science, FNIH; Professor Emeritus, Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park
- Dr. O’Brochta is trained in entomology and molecular genetics and is founding Director of the Insect Transformation Facility in the University of Maryland. His research experience focused on the development of transgenic insect technologies and their applications to fundamental and applied problems in medical and agricultural entomology.
Hector Quemada, Ph.D.
- Principal Research Associate at Western Michigan University
- Dr. Quemada has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and more than 20 years of experience in training and capacity building with regulators in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
Michael Santos, Ph.D.
- GeneConvene Director and Vice President, Science, FNIH
- Dr. Santos was previously a Deputy Director in the Global Health program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he was involved in setting strategy for programs on malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and other international health priorities. He has been a Principal at Boston Consulting Group and has a Ph.D. in astronomy.
Willy Kiprotich Tonui, Ph.D.
- CEO of the Environmental Health and Safety Consultancy, Ltd, Nairobi, Kenya
- Dr. Tonui has a Ph.D. in Immunology and more than 15 years of experience building networks and providing leadership in biosafety. He is the immediate former Chief Executive Officer at the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Nairobi, Kenya.
Karen Tountas, Ph.D.
- Scientific Program Manager, Science, FNIH
- Dr. Tountas has more than 35 years of experience working in research and development, marketing and program management for academia, government and for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.
- Senior Project Manager, Science, FNIH
- Ms. Wiener has more than 15 years of experience in global health project management and grants management. Before joining the FNIH, she was a programmer and conducted research and evaluation for not-for-profit organizations.
The GeneConvene Global Collaborative is a program of the FNIH, a U.S. not-for-profit 501(c)3 charitable organization created to advance biomedical discoveries leading to improved health outcomes. GeneConvene is governed by the FNIH Board of Directors, with an expert Advisory Board informing decisions and a Management Team leading the strategic planning, managing activities development and execution, and facilitating partner interactions.
*The GeneConvene Advisory Board works according to the Terms of Reference
Christian Borgemeister, Ph.D.
Director, Centre for Development Research, University of Bonn, Germany Dr. Borgemeister is an entomologist whose research has focused on biological control and integrated pest management in the tropics for improved food security, and vector control of infectious diseases like malaria as part of a One Health approach. He has done extensive work in Africa. He previously served as the Director General of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Nairobi, Kenya. Dr. Borgemeister is on the Board of Trustees for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (Nigeria). In addition, he is a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, the Royal Entomological Society, the Entomological Society of America, and a member of several national and international academic organizations.
Abdallah Daar, D.Phil.
Emeritus Professor of Clinical Public Health; Global Health; and Surgery, University of Toronto. In Toronto he was also Senior Scientist, University Health Network/Toronto General Hospital Research Institute; and Director of Ethics and Commercialization, Sandra Rotman Centre Professor Daar’s academic career has spanned biomedical sciences, organ transplantation, surgery, global health and bioethics. He has worked in various advisory or consulting capacities with the UN, the World Health Organization and UNESCO, and is co-founder of the non-profit Grand Challenges Canada. He was a member of the African Union High Level Panel on Modern Biotechnology, and currently serves on the AU High Level Panel for Emerging Technologies. He is a recipient of the UNESCO Avicenna Prize for Ethics of Science. His major research focus is on the use of life sciences to ameliorate global health inequities, with a particular focus on building scientific capacity and increasing innovation in developing countries. Professor Daar is a Permanent Fellow of the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study. His major work there has been on Developmental Origins of Health and Disease; and more recently on Artificial Intelligence and Digital Diagnostics. In 2017 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for his work in global health and in establishing Grand Challenges Canada. His 7th book “Garment of Destiny” was published in October 2018.
Founder and Executive Director, Speak Up Africa, Dakar, Senegal Ms. Djibo is the Founder and Executive Director of Speak Up Africa, an advocacy and communications organization that facilitates African leadership and ownership in tackling critical issues affecting the continent. Previously, she worked as the Senegal Country Director for Malaria No More and consulted for NetGuarantee, an innovative finance mechanism that accelerates delivery of mosquito nets to families in Africa. Ms. Djibo coordinated several high-profile campaigns and events throughout Senegal to create an engaging platform for malaria prevention and treatment. Prior to joining the fight for child health, she worked in the private sector in finance, real estate development and insurance as managing director of a life insurance company from 2006–2010.
Ann Kingiri, Ph.D. Senior Research Fellow, Science, Technology & Innovation (STI), African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), Nairobi, Kenya Dr. Kingiri pursues interdisciplinary research on integrated approaches to agricultural development and innovation with relevance to Africa’s inclusive and sustainable development. She pursues policy oriented research in STI, agriculture and bioenergy, including climate change and gender as cross-cutting themes. She is currently involved in research and advocacy focusing on fourth industrial revolution with relevance to Africa. During her tenure as Director of Research at ACTS, Dr. Kingiri coordinated generation and dissemination of STI knowledge through research, policy analysis and capacity building. She has held appointments and served on committees for the World Economic Forum, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (Task Force on Synthetic Biology and Biodiversity Conservation), and the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (including on the committee for the report “Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values”).
Bernard Nahlen, M.D.
Director, Eck Institute for Global Health, Dept of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA Dr. Nahlen has spent his career working to address the many diseases that disproportionately impact people in low- and middle-income countries. He has served as the Deputy Coordinator of the US President’s Malaria Initiative and worked to expand that program into 24 high-burden countries in Africa as well as to Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand, as well as developing effective partnerships with Ministries of Health, multilaterals (WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, World Bank, the Global Fund), other bilateral aid agencies in the UK and Australia and other organizations.
Nicholas O. Oguge, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Environmental Policy, Centre for Advanced Studies in Environmental Law and Policy, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya Dr. Oguge’s has more than 28 years of postdoctoral experience spanning academia, research, resource management, project management and community outreach. Professor Oguge was a Coordinating Lead Author for the African Region during the recent Global Assessments of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services by IPBES. He is currently managing a suite of environmental research efforts, including the NIH/IDRC funded Global Environmental and Occupational Health (GEOHealth) East African Hub, where he is the Kenya PI. He is the Chief of Party for the Economics of Natural Capital in East Africa Project, a USAID project managed by Environmental Incentives. He is one of 20 recipients of the UK Research and Innovation grant through the Global Challenges Research Fund, a peer reviewer with NERC (UK) and a past member of the Scientific Review Committee (SRC) at the Socio-Environmental Synthesis Centre (SESYNC), University of Maryland, USA. Professor Oguge is also the founding president of the Ecological Society for Eastern Africa (ESEA) and member of the Editorial Board, African Journal of Ecology.
Elias Zerhouni, M.D.
Professor Emeritus at Johns Hopkins University and member of the FNIH Board of Directors, Maryland, USA Dr. Zerhouni’s academic career was spent at the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, where he was Professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering and Senior Adviser for Johns Hopkins Medicine. He served as Chair of the Russell H. Morgan Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, Vice Dean for Research and Executive Vice Dean of the School of Medicine from 1996 to 2002. He then was appointed by President George W. Bush as Director of the National Institutes of Health, which he led from 2002 to 2008. He served as President, Global Research & Development for Sanofi from January 2011 to July 2018.
Summary of Past Advisory Board Meetings
About Genetic Biocontrol
Biocontrol, short for biological control, is a method of using living organisms, often microbes or insects, to manage a pest or disease-causing pathogen. These biological control organisms usually are natural enemies (predators, pathogens or competitors) of the unwanted pest or pathogen. Examples include introducing lady beetles to control aphids in the garden, using goats or sheep to control weeds, or having a housecat to control rats and mice. Biocontrol has a long-standing history of use for insect pest management, including by releasing sterile insects to reduce or eliminate wild populations of that insect.
Potential applications of genetic biocontrol
Genetic biocontrol approaches use genetic engineering to implement or supplement biocontrol. There are many possible applications of genetic biocontrol across public health, agriculture and conservation. For example, genetic biocontrol can be used to reduce the reproductive capacity of insects in the wild. Genetic biocontrol also could potentially be used to raise insects that do not acquire or transmit a disease, which could help to protect human, livestock and wildlife health. In the area of public health, there is evidence from laboratory experiments that genetic biocontrol approaches can reduce populations of disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Gene drive approaches
Some possible genetic biocontrol approaches are gene drive approaches. Gene drive is a natural phenomenon in which a genetic element spreads more quickly in a population of organisms that breed with each other than would otherwise be expected, because of a “drive” mechanism. Many different drive mechanisms are found in nature, including those where a gene is inherited at a higher rate than others, those where organisms that inherit only one of a pair of genes don’t survive or produce fewer offspring, and those that limit which organisms can successfully breed with each other. Genetic biocontrol may make it possible to use gene drive approaches for genetic biocontrol. For example, if there is a set of genes that prevents an insect from acquiring or spreading a disease, a gene drive approach may be able to spread those genes into a wild population of that insect. Gene drive approaches may also be able to spread genes that decrease the size of a wild population of an insect that spreads diseases. Gene drive could help to make genetic biocontrol more widely accessible and cost-effective.
Gene drive approaches for public health
There have been many decades of research into the potential of gene drive approaches to reduce the transmission of human and animal diseases that are spread by mosquitoes. Scientists have identified genes that, in laboratory mosquitoes, decrease the ability of mosquitoes to carry disease (population modification) or to produce offspring (population suppression). They have also developed gene drive approaches that rapidly spread these genes in populations of laboratory mosquitoes (see figure). So far, these approaches have not been tested outside of the laboratory, but computer simulation modeling predicts both approaches have great promise for preventing disease. Out of thousands of species of mosquitoes, only a small number of species carry the dozens of deadly and disabling diseases known to be transmitted by mosquitoes. These mosquito-borne diseases include malaria and viral diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever. Currently, the GeneConvene Global Collaborative focuses on the potential for gene drive approaches to reduce malaria transmission by Anopheles mosquitoes in Africa, where more than 90 percent of malaria deaths occur. Contact us to support current activities, or to discuss opportunities for GeneConvene to address other potential applications of genetic biocontrol approaches for public health.