By: Swapna Mohan, DVM, Ph.D.
Female Aedes aegypti via James Gathany/CDC
Gene drive turns insects into malaria fighters
CRISPR does it again! Scientists at the University(ies) of California have used the revolutionary gene-editing tool to produce genetically engineered mosquitos that have anti-malarial genes. With the insertion of this 17KB stretch of DNA, the mosquito develops the ability to produce antibodies against Plasmodium, the causative agent of malaria. The antibodies prevent the parasite from advancing its life cycle within the mosquito, its primary vector. And because of integration with the germline, the gene is passed on to the next generation of vectors with 99% efficiency.
The potential of this study is that the GE mosquitos can be released to breed with mosquito populations in the wild, effectively reducing the number of carriers and limiting the spread of the disease. While this method in and of itself, cannot eradicate malaria, it can be used in conjunction with other measures such as eradication of mosquito breeding sites, prevention and treatment drugs to check the spread of malaria. According to the U.N WHO estimates there were 214 million cases of malaria in 2015 and 438,000 deaths, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Efficient combination of prevention strategies can help combat this disease globally. A study published in Nature showed that 15 years of malaria prevention strategies have resulted in 663 million cases of malaria being averted since 2000. Additional measures such as using GE mosquitos to control vector population may help in eradication of the disease, at least from some parts of the world.
However, as with any genetic engineering system, the CRISPR-Cas9 gene drive method is being analyzed for its potential effects on ecological stability. The National Academy of Sciences has formed a committee to understand the technique and its applications fully so as to effectively assess the environmental and ecological risks associated with the release of genetically engineered organisms in the wild. (E. Pennissi, Science and W. Dunham, Reuters)
Diagnostic Test Regulations
F.D.A. Targets Inaccurate Medical Tests, Citing Dangers and Costs
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down on unnecessary tests and medical diagnostic procedures that it says may be putting thousands of people at risk each year and raising healthcare costs. In its report, the FDA analyzed several case studies to demonstrate how inefficient and inaccurate laboratory-based testing has endangered the lives of patients either by failing to detect conditions they had or by leading to unnecessary treatments for conditions they did not have.
The 20 cases examined and discussed in this report have all used Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs) that did not meet the minimum FDA requirements of validity and accuracy. Tests whose effectiveness has not been studied have been used and have led to unnecessary and expensive medical treatments to patients. One example discussed in the report shows that ovaries were removed from a healthy patient due to an incorrect diagnosis of ovarian cancer. The healthcare cost of unwarranted cholesterol treatment alone has been estimated to be over $2.4 billion as a result of inaccurate testing.
At a time when LDTs are expected to serve an increasingly important role in personalized medicine approaches, it is imperative to have highly reliable and accurate diagnostic tests. Based on the results of its report, the FDA is proposing to increase the regulatory oversight of LDTs to that of commercial test kits manufactured and marketed by companies. This move is aimed at providing diagnostic services that benefit patients and healthcare providers by reducing treatment burden and minimizing harm. (R. Pear, The New York Times)
Local Climate Change Policy
Leading By Example on Climate Action
As the 21st U.N. Conference of Parties (of all countries that want to take action on climate change) draws near, three term mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg announced that he will be co-hosting an event with the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. The event is called ‘Climate Summit for Local Leaders’ and will address the role of cities and local leadership in climate control. Since cities are the first responders to climate change-triggered catastrophes, such as floods and hurricanes, empowering the leaders of local government bodies and businesses will strengthen the effectiveness of response to such events.
The summit will discuss how to mitigate the effects of natural disasters on factories, businesses, transportation and shipping. By investing in smart risk management strategies, businesses can plan for economic risks associated with climate change.
This type of grassroots level of involvement will help cities and towns prepare for not only climate change derived disasters but also foster community support for low-carbon ventures such as cleaner transportation. This could in turn, bring about increased cost savings, energy efficiency and reduction of pollution. With this summit Mayor Bloomberg hopes to bring about a global effort from the part of local leaders, businesses and average citizens in taking action against climate change. (Michael Bloomberg, Huffington Post)
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