Dengue, a disease afflicting 50 to 100 million people worldwide and kills some 20,000 yearly, has no existing cure. However, an exciting discovery recently published by a group of Singapore scientists in the journal Science Translational Medicine may lead to an effective treatment in six years’ time.
Researchers from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the Defence Medical and Environmental Research Institute at DSO National Laboratories have uncovered a human antibody that destroys the dengue virus. The team, led by Associate Professor Paul MacAry from the NUS Department of Microbiology, spent two years searching through 200,000 cell lines from 200 recovered dengue-infected patients.
The painstaking efforts paid off when they found a recombinant antibody that could attach to the dengue virus, and stop it from attacking other cells. The identified antibody kills the virus within two hours, much faster than current anti-dengue compounds.
Dengue comes in four subtypes – DENV1 to DENV4. Infection with one dengue subtype gives rise to lifelong immunity to that particular virus, but only partial or transient protection against the others.The new antibody uncovered is effective against DENV1, which causes up to half the dengue cases in Singapore and countries in Southeast Asia. Tests with DENV1 types from the neighbouring countries produced similar outcomes
Assoc Prof Paul MacAry noted: “This represents the best candidate therapy that currently exists for dengue and thus is likely to be the first step in treating dengue-infected patients who now have no specific medicine or antibiotic and may take days to fully recover.” As the source is human, the new antibody will unlikely give rise to major side effects.
Assistant Professor Lok Shee-Mei of Duke-NUS (pictured above) said that the team aims to pinpoint antibodies that act against other dengue subtypes within the next two years. A combination concoction to treat eachsubtype is also in the works.
The investigators intend to start a local clinical trial in about 12 to 16 months, and expect a cure in another six to eight years.
Extracted from NUS Knowledge & Enterprise (Issue Jul/Aug-2012), a NUS Publication