Crop Biotech Update

Gene Drives Offer Sustainable Management of Vector-Borne Diseases -Experts

July 14, 2021

Dengue and Malaria are transmitted by mosquitoes and cause millions of deaths across the globe every year. Gene drives using genetically modified mosquitoes offer an effective, economical, and less labor-intensive solution to help fight lethal viral diseases.

The webinar Can gene drive eliminate vector-borne diseases? was live-streamed via Zoom on July 8, 2021. It was hosted by ISAAA, in partnership with the Biotechnology Information Centers and the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research. Experts from Singapore, Taiwan, and Italy were invited to speak about gene drive as a means to mitigate vector-borne diseases and their limitations.

Prof. Eng Eong Ooi of the Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases of the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore provided an overview of the current Malaria and Dengue in Africa and Asia. He explained that millions of people become infected with both diseases every year, and some cases, especially in children, result in death. While pharmaceutical companies continue to develop anti-malarial and anti-dengue drugs to control the diseases, the efficacy of these medicines would either fade throughout time or even fail at trials prior to their approvals.

Gene drive is a tool that can help mitigate diseases. Malaria and Dengue are transmitted by mosquitoes, an insect that is a threat to public health according to Dr. Chun Hong Chen of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Vaccinology of the National Health Research Institutes in Taiwan. When an infected person is bitten by a mosquito, the mosquito becomes the virus' vector. Once it lands and bites other people, they also become infected. The cycle continues and the diseases spread, sometimes uncontrollably. Traditional methods such as clean-up drives and chemical fogging are currently being used to control the mosquito populations, but these are expensive and labor-intensive said Chun. Gene drive is a more sustainable and cost-efficient solution.

Dr. Maria Vittoria Mancini of the Polo di Genomica of the Genetica e Biologia in Italy supported the statements of her co-speakers. Aside from the advantages of gene drive, Mancini also explained the technology's limitations such as the reduced efficacy of the technology over time, public perception and ethical concerns, international regulations, and the ecological impacts. While there is an increasing need for additional innovation in vector control interventions, a transparent, inclusive, and well-informed discussion for responsible evaluations and development of genetic control technologies is also crucial.

The webinar was opened by ISAAA Global Coordinator Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan and moderated by Dr. Sheetal Silal of the Modelling and Simulation Hub Africa at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. ISAAA SEAsiaCenter Director Dr. Rhodora Romero-Aldemita gave the closing remarks.

Watch the full session on ISAAA's YouTube channel. The next session of the Gene Drive Webinar Series titled Regulatory and governance considerations for gene drive research is scheduled for July 22, 2021. Register now.

Subscribe to the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research Newsletter to learn more about the technology.

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