Genetically modified mosquito preparations reviewed at MIM meeting
Need to develop principles for safety and efficacy testing
Science to genetically modify (GM) mosquitoes that cannot transmit malaria is in advanced stages of development in various parts of the world. Researchers at the 5th Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM) conference reviewed progress on Friday.
A genetically modified mosquito carries malaria, Anopheles gambiae, may move forward to caged trials in the next few years. This has already been done for mosquitoes that carry dengue in Kuala Lumpur during 2007-2008.
While aspects of GM mosquito development and deployment may be governed by established national and international guidelines, some features of the new technologies are outside existing regulatory schemes. There are currently no World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines regarding trials, or regulation, of genetically modified mosquitoes, so there is an urgent need to standardize principles for safety and efficacy testing.
TDR's vector management leader Dr Yeya Touré spoke about TDR's development of these guidelines, with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the United States Foundation for National Institutes of Health (FNIH).
Development of a draft framework of guidance is expected within the next year, to be followed by public consultation to gather input from civil society, policy-makers and other groups. It is intended to help develop standard procedures for efficacy and safety testing; address ethical, legal and social issues; and recommend processes for independent testing. The guidelines will help countries make decisions on trials and use of the GM mosquitoes. In addition, 3 regional biosafety training centres are being funded, to be located in Africa, Asia and Latin America, to provide training on the use of GM mosquitoes. Wamdaogo Guelbeogo of the centre national de recherche et de formation sur le paludisme in Burkina Faso spoke on his involvement in this training.
Scientists insist that alternative, non-GM approaches are also needed, such as radiating mosquitoes to make them sterile. This has been used in agriculture for over 50 years to control agricultural pest insects. For instance, the US, Mexican and Guatemalan governments irradiate some two billion male Mediterranean fruit flies weekly, rendering them sterile before they are released in the wild to mate.
Other researchers are looking at ‘population replacement’ strategies, where wild mosquito populations are actually replaced with GM modified varieties that cannot transmit malaria parasites, but these are probably a decade or so away.
Researchers emphasize that GM technology is not a ‘silver bullet’ and should be regarded as part of the suite of integrated tools to manage mosquito-borne diseases.
Full coverage of the MIM conference, including daily session summaries, interviews with scientists at the conference and blogs, are at the MIM conference site on TropIKA.net.