Sunday, November 14, 2010

Oxford, IIM-A join forces to take the sting out of mosquitoes

A major breakthrough in the fight against dengue and chikungunya is in the offing, as Oxford University researchers, in association with Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A), are testing the potential of genetically modified mosquitoes to curb the killer diseases at a Chennai containment facility.

Oxitec, part-owned Oxford biotechnology company, has conducted a preliminary trial on the mosquitoes in the British overseas territory of Cayman Islands. The demonstration trial with mosquito control and research unit at Chennai would probably be the first open field trial of any transgenic mosquito strain in the world.

Early results are encouraging and if future open field trials are able to replicate this level of success, then we may well have a potentially major breakthrough in the fight against dengue and chikungunya, said Oxitecs public health department head Seshadri Vasan. Female mosquitoes belonging to Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus species are responsible for dengue and chikungunya, which have afflicted over two million Indians the highest in the world in last six years. There is no specific treatment for either disease and experts say it may take another 10 years before an effective vaccine is available.

A multi-country study, led by IIM-A's Centre for Management of Health Services, has estimated the immediate cost of chikungunya and dengue to India at over US$ 1 billion annually. Oxford's GM strain of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes (OX513A) are sterile as they carry two copies of a genetic element that can be switched off by providing tetracycline in the larval diet. When these sterile males mate with wild female mosquitoes, the offspring will inherit one copy of the genetic element.

Source: The Times of India, November 14, 2010
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