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Breakthrough Research by African Scientist Holds Promise to Wipe Out Malaria through Mosquito Gene Editing

Abdoulaye Diabate, a scientist and professor in Burkina Faso, has been awarded the 2023 Falling Walls Prize for Science and Innovation Management for his groundbreaking research that aims to eliminate malaria-transmitting mosquito species by manipulating their genes. Having survived a life-threatening bout of malaria at a young age, Diabate is now leading efforts in medical entomology and parasitology at Burkina Faso’s Research Institute in Health Sciences. Malaria is a significant cause of death in Burkina Faso, with nearly the entire population at risk, especially children.

Diabate’s innovative approach involves using gene drive technology to alter the genes of female Anopheles mosquitoes, which transmit malaria. By releasing gene-edited sterile male mosquitoes into the environment, the female mosquito population can be reduced, leading to a halt in malaria transmission. Diabate’s research has been recognized for its potential to revolutionize malaria control, offering a more sustainable and budget-friendly intervention compared to existing methods.

While malaria control measures, such as bed nets, have made progress, insecticide resistance and rising costs have posed challenges. Diabate emphasizes the need for innovative tools to complement existing interventions. The gene drive technology, if successful, could be a game-changer in the fight against malaria, providing a cost-effective and sustainable solution that can be deployed in remote areas.

In 2019, Diabate’s research alliance, Target Malaria, conducted the first phase of the project by releasing genetically edited mosquitoes in Burkina Faso. The results are being used to inform subsequent phases of the research. Similar projects have targeted mosquitoes’ DNA in the past, but Diabate’s work stands out as one of the first to use gene editing to target male mosquitoes.

While health authorities welcome the potential of gene drive technology, concerns about its ecological impact have been raised. Questions about the unknown consequences on ecosystems and the broader environment are being considered. Diabate acknowledges these concerns and emphasizes that they will be factored into the development process of the project.

Diabate, driven by personal experiences with malaria, has dedicated his life to fighting the disease. His groundbreaking research could have a profound impact on malaria control, particularly in regions heavily burdened by the disease.