By Dr. Martin Lukindu, Postdoctoral Researcher, Target Malaria

The World Health Organization's World Malaria Report 2023, released today, paints a concerning picture of the global state of malaria in 2022. Despite continued efforts, malaria remains a significant public health challenge, with both malaria incidence and mortality higher now than they were before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This scenario is exacerbated by the growing impact of climate change, which, alongside other challenges, threatens to reverse progress in the fight against the disease.

The report indicates an increase in global malaria cases, which rose to approximately 249 million in 2022, up by 5 million compared to 2021. Global deaths from the disease were estimated at 608,000, a nearly 6% increase since 2019. Particularly alarming is the continued high burden of the disease in Africa. The African region disproportionally bore the brunt of the malaria burden in 2022, accounting for 94% of global malaria cases and 95% of all malaria deaths. About 78% of these deaths occurred in children under the age of five. Uganda, where I live and work, is part of a group of five countries, including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea, identified by the report as collectively accounting for a majority of the increase in global malaria cases.

By Zachary Stavrou – Dowd, Research Technician, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

We live on a pale blue dot where all life is connected – from single cells to blue whales. Our actions here impact not only our health but all life. To ensure our continued survival, we need an integrated approach that encompasses the environment, human health and animal health. This is what we call the One Health approach.

The UK Mission to the EU recently hosted a One Health Fair to showcase how UK institutions are pioneering solutions in this holistic approach. The exhibits ranged from environmental sampling for detecting human and animal pathogens to using AI to protect crucial honeybee colonies. The Functional Genetics group at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) joined colleagues from Target Malaria to showcase how functional genetics and gene drive can be used as a One Health solution, in particular through the development of innovative vector-disease control solutions.

By Dr. Aditi Mankad, Principal Research Scientist, Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)

On November 3, I had the pleasure of participating in an interactive event organized by the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research at iGEM Foundation’s 2023 Grand Jamboree. The session, held as part of the event’s offshoot Responsibility Conference, focused on the responsible field evaluation of gene drives and tackled complex topics, including how to effectively communicate technically challenging research and the nuances of ethical practices within the field.

I shared the stage with speakers from various fields: Claudia Emerson, Institute on Ethics & Policy for Innovation (IEPI),Tessa Alexanian, Council on Strategic Risks, as well as Naima Sykes and Delphine Thizy, Target Malaria. This panel came together to present practical insights on ethical and social considerations for field evaluations of gene drives, drawing on panelists’ diverse range of expertise in ethics and stakeholder engagement.

According to the recently released Thematic Assessment of Invasive Alien Species and their Control, produced by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), invasive alien species (IAS), including rodents, are implicated in a staggering 60% of documented global animal and plant extinctions. The future threat of invasive alien species is a major concern, especially with so many drivers of change predicted to worsen, including climate change. The IPBES report also highlights the generally insufficient measures in place to tackle these challenges.

Rodents, such as rats and mice, stand out as major culprits. Invasive mice are a significant cause of species extinctions globally and particularly threaten island ecosystems. Last year, researchers at the University of Adelaide associated with the Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents program (GBIRd), developed a world-first gene drive strategy to help control invasive mice. On October 31st, the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) and the University of Adelaide held a briefing to introduce guests to this breakthrough in gene drive technology, provided by Prof. Paul Thomas, University of Adelaide, who led the team involved in the research.

By Dr. David O'Brochta, GeneConvene Global Collaborative, Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH)

The GeneConvene Global Collaborative, in partnership with the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), convened the third edition of Gene Editing: A Short-course for African Science Professionals this October. The course gathered fifty established science professionals from twelve African countries at UDSM’s New Library in Dar es Salaam. It took place over four days of intense instruction led by myself and Dr. Daniel Maeda, UDSM.

Many of today’s gene drive technologies rely on the use of programmable DNA endonucleases from CRISPR/Cas systems. Elements of CRISPR/Cas systems are the backbone of contemporary gene editing technologies. Contextualizing gene drive technologies as applications of gene editing technologies provides extended opportunities to inform stakeholders such as established science professionals who may not have proximal professional interests in gene drive, about these technologies. This is important, as these professionals will probably contribute to critical discussions about gene drive technologies as they develop and their potential applications garner more attention in Africa.