Could gene drive be used for vaccine development?

Category: Public Health Applications

Although there are major ethical as well as technical reasons not to consider using gene drive in humans, some scientists have speculated about ways that gene drive might be used to prevent a population of animals from becoming infected with pathogens that could sicken them and/or subsequently be transmitted to people. Animals can serve as a “reservoir” for some diseases, meaning that the disease-causing pathogen can live, grow and multiply in the animal. Depending on the type of pathogen, humans may be able to catch the disease either directly from the animal reservoir (such as through a bite, ingestion of infected meat, or interaction with pathogen-containing animal excrement in the environment) or indirectly via the intervention of a vector, such as a mosquito or a flea, that carries the pathogen between the animal and the human. Gene drive has been proposed as a possible way to spread a resistance trait through the target population of animals, analogous to immunizing or “vaccinating” the animals against the pathogen. This could both protect the animal and ultimately reduce the risk of human exposure to the pathogen. Examples of proposed uses include making bats resistant to coronaviruses or mice resistant to Lyme disease. However, this concept is still in a very preliminary stage of development.

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