Provita is a ‘virtual’ company which began life in 2008 at Bergen County Academies, part of the Bergen County Technical Schools District in New Jersey. With a team consisting of only under-18s, it is currently working on genetically modifying mosquitos in order to deliver, through the saliva, a vaccine for West Nile Virus.
“The Flying Syringe project is in its earliest stages and builds upon research that has been ongoing worldwide since before 2008,” explained Project Coordinator Maria Dvorozniak to in-Pharmatechnologist.com.
She continued, adding: “At present students are researching the efficacy, as well as the ethical implications, of genetically engineering mosquitoes to deliver vaccines, and in the near future will be meeting with the Public Health Research Institute in Jersey City, NJ.”
The students conduct research usually seen only at a research university level, having access to equipment including Stem Cell and Microscopy labs.
The project is similar to that being developed by researchers in Japan who, according to a 2010 report in the Journal of Insect Molecular Biology, have managed to genetically engineer a mosquito to produce a natural protein vaccine against Leishmania.
However, though the report acknowledges the concept of the 'flying vaccinator' it is quick to highlight both the medical and ethical issues associated with such a method of drug delivery.
Speaking in Fast Company’s innovations publication Co.Exist, now seventeen year old Joshua Meier who enacts the role of CEO at Provita said this is a “new twist” on current research and the first stage involves sterilizing mosquitos in order to work with them.
“We can’t really culture mosquitoes in the lab at our high school because that’s dangerous,” he said, “but we a have research advisor and ideas planned out, and the next step is making a partnership, contacting other places that do have animal facilities.”
This is the second product in development by the teenage team having already come up with Coagula, a drug delivery method which reduces the frequency of injections for hemophiliacs. Coagula has received interest from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
“We’re doing this because most of us want to start our own companies or go into research,” explained Meier. “We’re here as an educational experience.”