SINGAPORE: A local research team at the Duke NUS Graduate Medical School has discovered how the dengue virus bypasses the immune system -- this finding can potentially help to design an effective vaccine against the virus.
Cases of dengue hit a record high of 22,362 cases in 2013.
When an individual is infected with a virus, the body naturally triggers antibodies to protect him from being infected by that same virus again. However, this does not happen with dengue, as the virus can shut down this immune system response.
For the first time, researchers have uncovered how exactly the virus does this -- they have discovered that the virus activates a receptor, which blocks white blood cells raising their immunity.
This allows the virus to replicate, resulting in a more severe infection.
The challenge for finding a vaccine for dengue lies in the fact that the virus has four different types of strains -- so the immune response to each strain is different. It is hoped that with this new research, it will clarify exactly how the dengue virus evades the immune response.
Currently, dengue vaccines try and replicate the entire virus, rather than produce antibodies that block dengue virus from activating its receptor.
Dr Ooi Eng Eong, Associate Professor and deputy director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Program at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, said: "Once we know how the dengue virus evades the immune response, then we could potentially design vaccines, that actually produce antibodies that block this whole process. Then essentially, we take away the one thing that dengue does very well, which is to take advantage of our antibodies to make things worse."
With Singapore experiencing its worst dengue outbreak in 2013, researchers said it is imperative to develop a more targeted vaccine therapy.
While controlling the mosquito population or vector control is one way to prevent dengue, Dr Ooi said this is not a viable long-term solution -- that is because this method is not practiced world-wide, which still leaves Singapore vulnerable as mosquitoes can transmit the virus brought in by overseas travellers.
Dr Ooi and his team are currently studying further the mechanics of how the dengue virus bypasses the immune system. - CNA/ac
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