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ARTICLE

New Aedes aegypti Might Combat Zika: Public Commentary Welcomed by FDA

MAR 15, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR
New Aedes aegypti mosquitos are being genetically engineered by, Oxitec Ltd., a British company, to fight the current Zika-spreading population.

The Zika virus is said to be linked to several neurological disorders in newborns. Recently, Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said: “We are learning more about Zika every day. The link with microcephaly and other possibly serious birth defects is growing stronger every day. The link to Guillain-Barré syndrome is likely to be proven in the near future, and the documentation that sexual transmission is possible is now proven.” It is for these reasons that the fight against the Zika virus, through innovative means, is a priority for the CDC as well as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The Key Haven Project

Female Ae. aegypti mosquitos spread not only Zika, but dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya. Although, it is the female mosquito population which spreads the virus, scientists have arranged to genetically modify male mosquitoes. The reason for this is because the new male Ae. aegypti (OX513A) is meant to control the current population of mosquitos in the release site by passing off a modified gene during mating that causes the premature death of offspring.

A draft assessment of the possible environmental impacts of conducting a field trial of releasing the new mosquito in Key Haven, FL, has been made public by the FDA for open commentary. Preliminary studies suggest no significant environmental impact on the area.

Commenting to CNN on the preliminary findings, Haydn Parry, CEO of Oxitec, stated, “While we didn't expect anything different, we're pleased the FDA has now published their data… we want to get everybody comfortable with the decision.”

Local Concern over GMO Mosquito Release

Not everyone is as comfortable with the situation as Parry was hoping. Many Key Haven residents are greatly opposed to the experiment.

Mila de Mier, a local resident, explained the town’s concerns to CNN, citing a senior center and local school less than a mile from the release site. She states, "People don't want to be guinea pigs…There has been no acceptance from community members. If the local and federal government fail to protect us and our wishes, our last option will be to trust the judicial system and bring it to the court. A legal battle is an option at this point…That area was not one that was affected by dengue. Not a single case ever. So why does the FDA want to do an experiment here when they can do this all over the world?"

However, Parry was quick to answer. He stated, “In any public health program it's hard to get 100% support. I’m sure there will be some that don’t agree.” He then went on to say that people should be focusing on the larger issue at hand, pointing at how rapidly Zika has taken over.“ The sooner we can get going and show what we can do, the sooner we can make a difference in the fight against this virus,” he concluded.

Past OX513A Trials

This would not be the first open field trial of the new OX513A. Successful trial releases previously took place in Brazil, Panama, Malaysia and the Cayman Islands, according to the FDA statement.

CDC and EPA Involvement

Currently, the Center for Veterinary Medicine of the FDA is reviewing the case alongside government experts from other agencies, namely the CDC and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); however, the FDA will not announce a final decision until public comments of the draft environment assessment have been reviewed, and the finding of no environmental impact is released in an official statement.
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