Published On: Tue, Jan 19th, 2016

Use of genetically modified mosquitoes to kill disease-carrying vectors expands after success

mosquitosOXFORD, England – A project using genetically modified (GM) male mosquitoes to kill off the disease-carrying vectors is being expanded in Brazil, as the country battles an outbreak of Zika virus.

The ‘Friendly Aedes aegypti Project’ which started in Piracicaba, Brazil is going further following strong results for controlling the Aedes aegypti mosquito population, the primary vector for dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus, it was announced today.

The UK-based Oxitec, the world’s only GM insect company, is initiating a new mosquito production facility in Piracicaba that will have capacity to protect over 300,000 people.

“We are delighted Piracicaba is encouraged by our strong results and expanding the programme. Our new facility will support the roll out of our ground-breaking vector-control across the heart of the city and beyond,” said Oxitec’s chief executive officer, Hadyn Parry. “As the principal source for the fastest growing vector-borne infection in the world in Dengue Fever, as well as the increasingly challenging Zika virus, controlling the Aedes aegypti population provides the best defence against these serious diseases for which there are no cures.”

Following approval by Brazil’s National Biosafety Committee for releases throughout the country, Piracicaba’s CECAP/Eldorado district became the world’s first municipality to partner directly with Oxitec and in April 2015 started releasing its self-limiting mosquitoes whose offspring do not survive. Six million mosquitoes were released into the area of the city which has seen most dengue cases.

When the genetically modified insect mates with a disease-causing wild female, they pass on a gene causing larvae to die before adulthood. By outnumbering the native males, the GM mosquito reduce the number of dengue-causing mosquitoes.

By the end of the year, results had already indicated a reduction in wild mosquito larvae by 82 per cent. Oxitec’s efficacy trials across Brazil, Panama and the Cayman Islands all resulted in a greater than 90 per cent suppression of the wild Aedes aegypti mosquito population – an unprecedented level of control.

Based on the positive results achieved to date, the ‘Friendly Aedes aegypti Project’ in CECAP/Eldorado district covering 5,000 people has been extended for another year. Additionally Oxitec and Piracicaba have signed a letter of intent to expand the project to an area of 35,000-60,000 residents. This geographic region includes the city’s centre and was chosen due to the large flow of people commuting between it and surrounding neighbourhoods which may contribute to the spread of infestations and infections.

“The city of Piracicaba has always sought innovative solutions to serious problems. In the case of Aedes aegypti, we looked for the tool that seemed most appropriate to help in the tough battle against this mosquito that transmits dengue, Zika and chikungunya,” said Mayor Gabriel Ferrato.

“Based on the results presented today, we decided to extend the project in CECAP/Eldorado district for another year and also signed a record of intent to expand the project to the central area of Piracicaba. This will bring to the city a new Oxitec factory to meet demand for years to come and help protect the public’s health with this clean and innovative technology.”

Brazil has the highest reported incidence of dengue in the Western Hemisphere, and with both chikungunya and Zika virus having entered the country in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the Aedes aegypti mosquito has become an increasing health risk. As a result, Brazil’s Ministry of Health spent millions to combat the mosquito.

Dr. Samuel Broder, Senior Vice President and Head of Health Sector at Intrexon Corporation, Oxitec’s parent company, noted that as a vector that transmits a number of serious diseases, the Aedes aegypti mosquito poses a major threat to public health and the economic welfare of nations.

“Brazil has been hard hit by dengue and the situation there has been aggravated by the recent introduction of Zika virus infections leading to a startling increase in the number of children being born with microcephaly,” he said.

“Through the responsible engineering of biology, we demonstrate a new paradigm of species-specific vector control resulting in dramatic reductions of dangerous mosquitoes, without persistence or harm to the ecosystem, representing a major scientific, environmental and clinical advance.”

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