Ethical issues in field trials of genetically modified disease-resistant mosquitoes

D. B. Resnik,  Developing World Bioethics,  14:37-46. 2012.

Mosquito-borne diseases take a tremendous toll on human populations, especially in developing nations. In the last decade, scientists have developed mosquitoes that have been genetically modified to prevent transmission of mosquito-borne diseases, and field trials have been conducted. Some mosquitoes have been rendered infertile, some have been equipped with a vaccine they transmit to humans, and some have been designed to resist diseases. This article focuses on ethical issues raised by field trials of disease-resistant, genetically modified mosquitoes. Some of these issues include: protecting the public and the environment from harm, balancing benefits and risks, collaborating with the local community, avoiding exploitation, and safeguarding the rights and welfare of research subjects. One of the most difficult problems involves protecting the welfare of community members who will be impacted by the release of mosquitoes but who are not enrolled in the study as research subjects. To address this concern, field trials should take place only when the targeted disease is a significant public health problem in an isolated area, the benefits of the trial for the community are likely to outweigh the risks, community leaders approve of the trial, and there are measures in place to protect the welfare of un-enrolled community members, such as informing the community about the study and offering free treatment to people who contract mosquito-borne diseases. Since the justification of any field trial depends on a careful examination of the scientific and ethical issues, proposed studies should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.