I wrote an article in today's Toronto Star about a novel way to fight Dengue Fever -- or potentially any other disease passed on by mosquitoes.
The idea is an "altruistic vaccine" that does nothing to help the person actually getting the shot. Instead, the person's blood is rendered poisonous to any mosquitoes who bite the vaccinated person -- making the little critters unable to spread the disease.
The vaccine is being developed at Queensland University, in a part of Australia with a fast-growing Dengue problem. Global warming is being blamed for its rapid spread. The Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation is funding the work.
All vaccines have some altruist qualities to them, ethicist Angus Dawson told me, in that governments fund vaccination programs to prevent the spread of disease. Altruistic drugs take that one step further by giving no direct benefit to the person getting the shot.
That much is in the story.
What I couldn't fit in was Dawson's observation that the research is an example of society continuing to look for technological solutions to problems with wider causes.
It would perhaps be more ethical, says Dawson, founding director of the Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele University in Britain and now a visiting ethicist at the University of Toronto's Joint Centre for Bioethics, to address the long-term, underlying causes of disease spreading in general -- such as poverty, lack of access to proper care and global warming.
He's right, of course, but I won't hold my breath.