In the past decade there have been multiple dengue outbreaks in various parts of the country. Solutions to tackle this deadly disease have been plenty amore but none of them have been sustainable and sufficient. There is no vaccine to prevent dengue and the cost for dengue treatment is exorbitant. As per the statistics provided by the Directorate general of health services, India there have been over 1,00,000 citizens affected by dengue in 2017, with Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka recording the highest number of cases. These numbers evidently call for an alternative and innovative method to control the spread of mosquito-carried diseases.
The answer to this issue, is again innovation. Innovation in a way that the situation is handled sensitively, efficiently and in a manner than it is cost and resource initiative. Research in solutions for improving public health is the need of the hour, and I am proud that we are taking a lead in this with our latest project on The Friendly Aedes aegypti in partnership with Oxitec.
The pertinent climate changes which include rising temperatures as well as increase in rainfall are causing a significant rise in the mosquito population as they enjoy prolonged life cycle. Started in 2011, the innovative research and experiments being conducted at the Mahyco headquarters in Jalna aim to control the population of the vector female mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti, that are responsible for the transmission of dengue, chikungunya and emerging zika virus.
“These mosquitoes are ‘friendly mosquitoes’ and only non-biting male mosquitoes are used for controlling the wild Aedes aegypti mosquito population.”. A specific gene carried by the OX513A, these male mosquitoes transfer the gene to the offspring. The unique characteristic of this gene is that the offsprings carrying this gene die during the development and hence they do not reach adulthood. Therefore, release of these non-biting ‘friendly male mosquitoes’ lead to decrease in the vector mosquito population and eventually reduction in disease transmission overtime.
Phase one of the laboratory trial has been successfully completed, results showed that the OX513A strain is efficacious. Phase two of the trial which involves demonstration of suppression of wild Aedes aegypti population in large field cages under physical-contained conditions is underway. The environment in these contained field experiments reflect the conditions of the natural environment to demonstrate the technology is efficacious to proceed for Phase three open field testing.. Following the necessary approvals, phase three which will involve open field trials will commence. On the successful completion of phase three, we hope to control this vector Aedes aegypti mosquito responsible for transmission of dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus and slowly but steadily bring about a change in public health. The treatment is also replicable and hence will be a step towards sustainable solutions for control of other disease spreading vector mosquitoes such as malaria as well in future.
We hope to garner public support for this pioneering and innovative step that India can take. With encouraging response from countries like Brazil, there is more than enough evidence on the efficacy of this model, and we are convinced that our trials will also help us reap the benefits of this innovation!
-Dr. Prabhakar B Patil, Scientist, GBIT Limited