Tahitian Scientists Test Sterile Insect Technique For Dengue Control



Tahitian Scientists Test Sterile Insect Technique For Dengue Control

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As per World Health Organisation, Tahiti researchers are testing the novel Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) to see if it can stop the spread of dengue. The efficacy of this cutting-edge technology in fighting dengue fever will be tested first in French Polynesia.

This global research effort is being supported by the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States. This research aims to put non-invasive approaches to sickness prevention to the test.  

The Sterile Insect Technique uses irradiation to suppress insect reproduction. Following sterilization via x-ray irradiation, billions of male mosquitos are released into the wild to mate with naturally occurring females. Females are unable to reproduce. Hence the world’s insect population is diminishing. Despite a long history of successful application in agriculture, using this technology to prevent mosquito-borne diseases like dengue is a relatively new strategy.  

TDR, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the World Health Organization partnered in 2020 to create a guidance sheet to assist countries in implementing SIT against Aedes mosquitos. Following an open call for ideas, four multinational research consortiums were chosen to conduct SIT trials.

In November, a collection of groups led by Tahiti’s Institut Louis Malardé hopes to release sterile male mosquitos. Before the study begins, employees must be trained in mosquito rearing and sterilization techniques; the local community must be consulted to secure support for the field experiment and develop data-gathering strategies.  

Dengue fever is a serious global threat, with an estimated 100-400 million annual illnesses and increased transmission due to climate change. The Americas, South-East Asia, and Western Pacific WHO Regions have been particularly heavily impacted, with Asia bearing the lion’s share of the world’s sickness burden (about 70%). Because there is no cure for dengue, efforts to prevent it must concentrate on eradicating the insects that spread the virus.  

The Sterile Insect Technique has been effective against various agricultural pests over the last 60 years, including the Mediterranean fruit fly and the tsetse fly. Cattle no longer need to be concerned about catching trypanosomiasis because of a 16-year initiative in Senegal that successfully eradicated the tsetse fly from a 1,000 km2 area while causing no harm to other insects. 

Community support is essential for the successful implementation of SITs. Local communities benefiting from successful dengue control through SIT will be involved in vector management and mosquito monitoring operations.

The community’s ability to monitor for mosquitoes will be increased as knowledge is gradually transferred. Researchers in French Polynesia are partnering with the Ministry of Health’s Health Promotion section to develop extensive communication efforts to educate, enroll, and win over the local public to maximize their likelihood of accepting SIT.  

Even though pilot testing has been conducted in several countries, human impact data is still insufficient. A recent workshop in Tahiti brought together researchers from 18 countries and representatives from TDR, IAEA, CDC, and WHO’s Global Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Programme. The session’s goal was to review the results of SIT test plans from various countries and discuss how to improve them.  


Participants in the workshop discussed the challenges of breeding and sterilizing billions of mosquitos, tracking their flight performance and mating competitiveness, experimenting with ground-based and drone-based release methods, gaining community support for the field trial, and gathering data on the impact of humans on dengue transmission.  

Researchers in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands will choose 600 adults at random from the treatment and control groups to determine the findings. These samples will be examined for dengue antibodies at the time of the sterile male mosquito release and retested six months later. The study will also look at how SIT affects non-Aedes mosquito insect populations. 

Adopting the Sterile Insect Technique in French Polynesia is a significant step forward in the fight against dengue, promising an efficient and environmentally benign approach to eradicating this mosquito-borne disease. 

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