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Dengue antibody identified, promising cure

28 June 2012



The team led by Assoc Prof MacAry (2nd from left) identified the antibody that acts against a subtype of the dengue virus responsible for half the dengue infections in Singapore

Photo: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

Singapore 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 made a breakthrough in the war against dengue. They pinpointed a human antibody that kills the dengue virus within two hours, an exciting find that could pave the way to treating the disease.

After two years of examining some 200,000 cell lines from 200 recovered dengue-infected patients, the team determined a recombinant antibody that could bind to the dengue virus and prevent it from attacking other cells. The antibody destroys the virus much faster than current anti-dengue compounds.

The discovery published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on 21 June may offer a new arsenal to control the deadly disease which has no cure and claims some 20,000 lives a year worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, 50 to 100 million people globally are infected with dengue annually.

Four dengue subtypes (DENV1 to DENV4) exist. A person infected with one dengue type will develop lifelong immunity to that type but only partial or temporary protection against the rest. The new antibody identified acts against DENV1, which accounts for up to half of the dengue cases in Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries.

Lead investigator Assoc Prof Paul MacAry from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine's Department of Microbiology said that tests of the new antibody with DENV1 types from the neighbouring countries gave equally encouraging results.

"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," he noted. The human antibody will likely have no serious side effects, making the approach an attractive one.

Asst Prof Lok Shee-Mei of Duke-NUS revealed that the team will be examining other antibodies that treat dengue subtypes 2, 3 and 4 infections, hopefully within the next two years. They aim to combine these into one mixture to treat each subtype and improve patient outcomes.

The scientists plan to conduct a clinical trial in the next 12 to 16 months in Singapore, and expect a therapy in another six to eight years.



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