A DIDCOT scientist who found a way to wipe out dengue fever by manufacturing malfunctioning mosquitoes is shortlisted for an international award.

Luke Alphey, director of Milton Park-based Oxitec, is the only UK finalist in this year’s European Inventor Awards.

His company earned international acclaim for its technology, which almost wiped out dengue fever in one Central American suburb in a trial last year.

The firm genetically engineered male mosquitoes which produce dud offspring that die before adulthood. They sent 4.3 million specially-engineered eggs to be released in the neighbourhood of Nuevo Chorrillo, west of Panama City, which hatched out.

Its outcome was a 90 per cent reduction in the local population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits dengue and chikungunya viruses.

The Brazilian Ministry of Health is now hoping to give the method official approval in the next 12 months so Oxitec can begin commercially releasing the technology there.

The firm hopes this could produce a significant decrease in dengue in Brazil from 2016.

The European Patent Office (EPO), which nominated Mr Alphey for the European Inventor Awards, said it was potentially a “miracle” weapon against disease.

President Benoît Battistelli said: “Luke Alphey’s research has resulted in a targeted and environmentally-friendly method to combat dengue fever.

“His revolutionary way of controlling the spread of the disease could be the miracle weapon needed to contain dengue fever in a targeted way.”

Mr Alphey, 51, founded Oxitec, short for Oxford Insect Technologies in 2002, after studying genetics at Oxford University.

By coincidence he grew up in Grove – just 10km from Oxitec’s current base – before his family moved to St Albans when he was three years old and where he grew up.

Oxitec now employs 50 people and Mr Alphey is also head of the arthropod genetics group in the vector-borne viral diseases programme at the Pirbright Institute.

He and his wife Dr Nina Alphey, who lived in Kidlington for 17 years, moved to Surrey last year when he took up the role. Mr Alphey said it was a “great honour” just to be nominated for the awards.

He said: “The European Inventor Awards cover a huge range of disciplines.

“This sort of third party validation and recognition helps with publicity so it means more people hear about the work, as well as about the people affected by mosquitoes and other insects, and are aware that this sort of potential solution exists. It also helps with funding and investment.” The 10th European Inventor Awards will be announced at a ceremony in Paris on June 11.

Dengue fever is on the rise worldwide. Nearly 400 million people are infected every year, with 25,000 of those cases resulting in death.

With no vaccine in sight, almost half of the world’s population are at risk of contracting the disease, according to the World Health Organisation.