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Alphabet’s Verily aims to end dengue fever in Singapore

According to Alphabet’s life sciences unit Verily, Singapore could become the first dengue-free country in the tropics. That is if governments decide to use the technology across city-states to tackle mosquito-borne diseases.

Dengue kills 300 million people each year, of which 90 million become seriously ill and tens of thousands die, most of them children. Singapore has seen a surge in cases this year, with the average weekly number of cases in early December 20% higher than normal, according to the National Environment Agency.

But in some residential areas where NEA and Verily field-tested, it’s a different story. Verily technology fights dengue infection Aedes aegypti Release of other institutionalized mosquitoes WolbachiaAedes mosquito. NEA reports up to 98% inhibition. Aedes aegypti After at least one year of release under Project Wolbachia, there was an 88% reduction in dengue cases. Truly Joined in 2018.

“We were able to make Singapore Linus Upson, who led Verily’s Debug Project in California and was previously at Google, said: “We are sure [island-wide] The proposal is scientifically and economically sound. . . make a proposal [the Singapore government] in the coming months. ”

Projects to sterilize insects have been around for decades, and Verily has tried the technology elsewhere, including California, but dense Singapore presents a particularly ambitious opportunity to test the entire country. is considered.

Companies, including resorts and hotels in hot tropical locations, may end up being customers of this technology, but insects are pollinators that affect plant growth, so environmental impacts are a concern. Concerns remain. There are also questions about whether poor governments in Southeast Asia can replicate the projects of wealthy Singapore.

Aedes aegypti is the primary vector that facilitates dengue transmission in Singapore and may also transmit yellow fever, chikungunya and Zika virus.

The key to eradicating it is to use Wolbachia — Common bacteria naturally occurring on 50% of insect species — For control. Verily’s highly automated facility and team of scientists, engineers and specialists in Singapore breed mosquitoes, classify them according to sex, and release males to mate with wild females. Verily men have Wolbachiawhile wild Aedes aegypti Women don’t, so they’re not compatible. Females lay eggs, but they never hatch.

Day-old mosquito larvae ready to be dosed in Debug’s incubator at its manufacturing facility in Singapore © Verily Life Sciences.

“The concept is very interesting because we are increasing mosquito populations and reducing populations. It’s working elsewhere,” said one city-state-based science professor, who asked to speak anonymously because it’s a government project.

Other projects that don’t focus on repression have also been successful. Operating in 12 countries, from Australia to Brazil to Fiji, the World Mosquitos his program breeds and stocks. Wolbachia– Weekly infected mosquitoes for up to 20 weeks. After a year, wild populations in the target area are infected and the bacteria are able to block the replication of viruses, including dengue fever.

“We are immunizing them effectively,” said Cameron Simmons, global implementation lead for the World Mosquito Program and director of the Institute for Vector-borne Diseases at Monash University. . The WMP method did not increase or decrease mosquito numbers, he said. It also didn’t have to be repeated and didn’t require huge industrial and automated installations.

A WMP trial in Yogyakarta, Indonesia showed a 77% reduction in dengue cases and an 86% reduction in dengue hospitalizations. Wolbachia– Treated area compared to untreated area.

“High-income countries such as Singapore and US states can afford the male mosquito method Verily uses. , is more difficult and costly. [That technology] It hasn’t been proven on a large scale,” added Simmons. “We don’t solve the problem of people being bitten. The mosquitoes are still there, but we solve the health problem.”

Proponents argue that suppressive technology remains cheaper than the cost of public health in the long run.The economic impact of dengue fever could cost $1 billion between 2010 and 2020, according to a study by the NEA. to $2.2 billion.

Upson agreed that there are environmental implications for any interference, but said there are problems with invasive mosquito species, such as: Aedes aegypti — it’s not native to Southeast Asia — is becoming increasingly serious for governments and healthcare systems.

The cost of Verily’s program in Singapore “will be less than the direct medical costs of dengue fever,” he argued.

https://www.ft.com/content/9ee5a38f-9f5e-4434-89ec-309f6d2513ca Alphabet’s Verily aims to end dengue fever in Singapore

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