University of California, San Diego

Applying innovative genetic strategies to eliminate mosquito-borne disease

Infectious and parasitic diseases

We will validate and refine synergistic genetic elements that reduce and modify mosquito populations preventing transmission of malaria and other diseases, accelerating field test solutions.

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Lead Organization

University of California, San Diego

La Jolla, California, United States

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Project Summary

Mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria, present one of the greatest and expanding threats to worldwide human health. Efforts to reduce malaria have stalled recently primarily due to mosquitoes developing resistance to insecticides used for bed nets and indoor spraying. Malarial parasites have also developed resistance to drug therapies. Furthermore, these costly measures rely heavily on foreign aid, and are continuously threatened by political instability, large population migrations, and other emergencies such as famine, droughts and war. New solutions are urgently needed.We have developed two highly effective genetic strategies to revitalize the global malaria eradication agenda. One approach modifies mosquito populations, preventing them from transmitting malarial parasites, and the other reduces mosquito numbers. We will combine these two synergistic approaches to optimize the advantages of each.People benefitting most from our solution live in underdeveloped parts of the world including children and historically marginalized members of these societies.

Problem Statement

Both mosquitoes and malarial parasites are rapidly developing resistance to existing interventions. Insecticide-impregnated bed nets, credited with the majority of gains in reducing malaria incidence (and deaths), are now failing. Indoor residual spraying of long-lasting insecticides and the development of effective combination drug therapies in concert with traditional approaches to limit mosquito habitat have also contributed importantly to reduction of malaria, but now no longer offer much, or any, protection in large areas of the world. Now that resistance to both insecticides and anti-parasite drugs have undermined the effectiveness of these tools, new solutions are urgently needed.The horror of malaria in developing countries can be compared to the fear and devastation caused by cancer in developed countries. Malaria kills large numbers of people (nearly half a million each year, the great majority of them children) and also has an enormous impact on society. Parents sickened by malaria are unable to provide needed support for their families. Children who survive malaria face grave challenges in getting an adequate education. These social and economic impacts magnify the catastrophes families must suffer when members die from malaria. Without new interventions, these terrible human costs will continue to be paid.We believe that integration of new genetic technologies with the current malaria eradication agenda offers the biggest potential impact, and that parallel uses of the technology to reduce the incidence of insecticide resistance will synergize with these efforts.

Solution Overview

Over a five-year period, we expect to demonstrate that our combined genetic strategy to modify and reduce mosquito populations will result in two measurable outcomes. First, the number of mosquitoes in a treated area is predicted to drop significantly (~90%), and those few mosquitoes that remain in a given area should carry the necessary genetic information to render them refractory to transmitting malaria. Second, we should document an overall reduction in the incidence of malaria infection in people living in the treated regions that becomes manifest over several seasons.In the first five years, people living locally in the treated areas will benefit most from a reduction in the incidence of malaria. In accordance with a phased application of the technology as mandated by the World Health Organization, success in isolated applications of genetically modified mosquitoes could be followed by broader regional and then continental application of such strains and development of similar genetic strains targeting other important mosquito species that transmit malaria. Ultimately, over the course of the next decade, these combined synergistic efforts have the potential to create broad geographical and then global impacts, providing a significant contribution to the worldwide malaria eradication agenda.

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Project Funders

  • Tata Trusts 2017 - 2021
  • Grand Challenges in Ecosystems and the Environment Initiative 2016 - 2020
  • DARPA 2017 - 2021

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