Malaria remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases, killing some 400,000 people—primarily young children—every year. Malaria is both preventable and treatable, yet stubbornly persistent, in part because control efforts such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying and seasonal chemoprevention require substantial financial commitment, political support and day-to-day behavior change among individuals and households.
What if there were a way to stop mosquitoes from transmitting malaria that was low-cost, hassle-free and protected everyone in a community?
New genetic biocontrol technologies could make it possible to reduce the toll of malaria either by reducing the reproduction of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, so fewer will be present to spread disease, or by decreasing their ability to carry the malaria parasite. With mosquitoes no longer transmitting malaria, individuals would be free of special protection measures and communities would enjoy extraordinary social, economic and health benefits.
It's an inspiring yet challenging vision, raising important technical, regulatory and ethical questions. And while the scientific community has established procedures for evaluating tools like vaccines, medicines and insecticides, such procedures have not yet been developed for genetic biocontrol.
That’s why in 2020 the FNIH launched the GeneConvene Global Collaborative, an initiative to advance the safe and responsible exploration of genetic biocontrol technologies. Building on more than a decade of FNIH work, GeneConvene brings together scientists, regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders to develop best practices and ensure that genetic biocontrol research addresses important public health priorities ethically, safely and effectively.
GeneConvene also serves as a global hub for relevant, timely and accurate knowledge. A key resource for this work is the GeneConvene Virtual Institute, also launched in 2020. The Virtual Institute is an online library housing scholarly literature, policy papers, opinion pieces, educational videos and media coverage. GeneConvene also hosts regular webinars that provide diverse, multidisciplinary perspectives on the scientific, social and ethical dimensions of genetic biocontrol technologies.
Realizing the immense promise of genetic biocontrol research to end malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases over the long term will require a rigorous evaluation of the risks and benefits of each step along the way, from the laboratory to field testing to potential implementation. Through the GeneConvene Global Collaborative, FNIH is committed to ensuring that everyone charged with making decisions about genetic biocontrol—from scientists to policymakers to communities—has the knowledge they need to move forward safely and ethically.