Written by Ana Kormos, University of California Irvine Malaria Initiative

The University of California Irvine Malaria Initiative (UCIMI) is a not-for-profit research collaborative whose mission is to contribute to the eradication of human malaria.

UCIMI has developed gene drive-based systems for the modification of the African malaria vector mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, to prevent them from transmitting the parasites that cause malaria.

Our population modification strategy (also known as population replacement) is designed to rapidly spread beneficial genes that prevent malaria parasite transmission by the mosquito throughout the vector population. This strategy eliminates the parasite, not the mosquito, which we believe has many advantages over strategies aimed at reducing or suppressing mosquito populations.

The aim is to collaborate with malaria-endemic countries to develop new tools to supplement existing methods of malaria control. If a country determines that the genetically-modified mosquito is an appropriate tool for them, they will be provided with necessary tools to co-develop the modified mosquito and the implementation strategy as part of their malaria control programs.

The UCIMI program is led by Dr. Anthony James at the University of California Irvine. Within the program there are multiple research components comprising groups from several research institutions. These include the laboratories of: Dr. Ethan Bier at UC San Diego, Dr. Greg Lanzaro at UC Davis, Dr. John Marshall at UC Berkeley, and Dr. George Dimopoulos at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The UCIMI team works together collaboratively and are driven by a shared commitment to achieve well-defined goals to reduce the suffering caused by malaria.

Our program is currently conducting field research in two geographically-isolated African island nations, The Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, and The Union of the Comoros. The field research includes conducting extensive sampling and analysis of local mosquito populations, and initial phases of engagement with stakeholders and community leaders.

UCIMI has adopted a relationship-based model for engagement, which emphasizes the importance of establishing open dialogue, collaboration, and relationships of trust with stakeholders and community members where research is being conducted. Importantly, the model places stakeholders and community members at the center of decision-making processes, including conversations that inform decisions, definitions, policies, regulation and frameworks for the development and application of the technology.

UCIMI has recently launched an updated website with additional information about who we are and our research programs. Please visit us at ucimi.org.