Scientists have recently created Dengue resistant mosquitoes in an effort to minimize transmission of the vector-borne disease from mosquitoes to humans. Dengue, known a breakbone fever, is known to cause severe symptoms including high fevers, internal bleeding, aching muscle and joint pain, and delirium. Combined with increasing populations, urbanization, and climate change, the number of Dengue cases has risen dramatically over the past few years, particularly in the areas of South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Nearly 100 millions people are diagnosed with Dengue annually, and approximately 20,000 patients die each year due to severe complications including ADE (antibody dependent enhancement).
Although a Dengue vaccine has been created, it is only able to protect against 60% of cases and is approved in three countries but only used in the Philippines; therefore, people have relied on traditional measures including mosquito nets and insect repellant as preventative measures. In order to address this issue, a team of researchers lead by George Dimopoulos at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health was able to manipulate two genes that impact the immune systems of Aedes aegypti, allowing the mosquitoes to be 85% more resistant to certain strains of Dengue. This study was published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases and has been widely read by other public health researchers including Lauren Carrington, a dengue virus researcher at the University of Melbourne, who has stated that this study provides a better understanding of the virus-vector interaction.
Genetic engineering of mosquitoes is not a new concept and was previously done by a British bioengineering company called Oxitec, which developed male mosquitoes that caused female mosquitoes to produce dead offspring after mating.
Dimopoulos would like to expand on his research and try to develop mosquitoes that are resistant to other vector-borne illnesses such as Chikungunya. While the current genetically modified Dengue resistant mosquitoes make take ten years of additional testing and clinical trials before being released into Dengue-ridden areas, Dimopoulos and public health researchers remain hopeful of a potentially highly effective preventative measure.
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~Michelle Bach (Humans and Viruses 2016-2017)