BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

July 22, 2019

Research Roundup: Wiping out mosquitoes on two Chinese islands, betting on biometrics to boost vaccination rates, and J&J to test HIV vaccine in US and Europe

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

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An experiment on two islands near the southern Chinese province of Guangdong successfully reduced the female Asian Tiger Mosquito population—a highly invasive species that is the main source of bites and disease transmission—by up to 94 percent, reducing the number of reported human bites by 97 percent. In the study, female mosquitoes were sterilized with low level radiation and males infected with Wolbachia bacteria to inhibit reproduction. Both the female and male mosquitoes were then released during the peak breeding seasons in 2016 and 2017—resulting in a near-eradication of the entire female mosquito population on both islands. Given there are no effective vaccines or treatments for many mosquito-transmitted diseases, controlling the insect’s population is one of the most effective control methods, according to the International Journal of Science.

A new project is being launched by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to test whether using biometric data as part of medical records can help boost vaccination rates among children. The trial in Bangladesh and Tanzania will fingerprint up to 20,000 children between the ages of one and five in existing health projects, using biometric data to track their vaccinations and link them to computer medical records that will replace paper-based records. Simprints, a UK-based nonprofit specializing in biotechnology in the field of international development, will manage the fingerprint collection effort. Simprints’ technology has already been fine-tuned to work with fingerprints from individuals in poor and rural communities, who are more likely to have worn, scarred, or burned fingertips. Japanese company NEC Technologies is also partnering on the project to provide image processing and matching algorithms to complement Simprints’ scanning hardware and apps. The US$3 million project is due to begin later this year and conclude in 2020.

Johnson & Johnson will test an experimental HIV vaccine—a mosaic-based preventative immunization that targets multiple strains of the virus—in the United States and Europe sometime this year. The company is also conducting a phase 2 clinical trial for the vaccine in Africa involving 2,600 women in five southern African countries. Initial results from the African trial are expected in 2021. This trial comes amid other recent advancements in HIV/AIDS research. In April, Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline majority-owned ViiV Healthcare filed a new drug application with the US Food and Drug Administration for its once-a-month injection treatment for HIV, which in late-stage trials was shown to be as effective in controlling HIV as daily pills.

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