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Test kit to identify lethal form of dengue

7 Oct 2013

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the primary vector for the spread of dengue fever
Photo: CDC

Prof Ng (2nd from left) and team members are developing the world’s first dengue prognostic test kit
An estimated 100 million people worldwide suffer from dengue fever yearly. Some 2 million are affected by the potentially life-threatening dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), with about 22,000 dying from the disease. More than 16,000 people in Singapore had dengue infection from January to September 2013  with six deaths.

A group of researchers from NUS’ Department of Microbiology recently identified three proteins in the blood of dengue patients that can distinguish whether patients will develop DHF or dengue shock syndrome (DSS) at early stage of the disease, thus helping clinicians to better manage the disease.

No technology currently exists to distinguish patients who may develop the severe DHF and DSS from those who will develop non-severe dengue fever. Doctors hospitalise all dengue patients with low platelet counts as a usual practice. This is to ensure that dengue patients who eventually develop DHF or DSS can be given supportive care immediately. However, the percentage of dengue fever patients progressing to the more severe disease (DHF/DSS) are usually low (less than 0.5 per cent). This leads to an unnecessary shortage of hospital beds and significantly burdens hospital resources, especially during major epidemics.

Professor Mary Ng and her research team have determined biomarkers in the blood that can differentiate if a dengue patient will progress to the more lethal DHS/DSS. They are working to develop the world’s first dengue prognostic test kit and have received a highly competitive product-oriented Proof-of-Concept Grant of approximately S$250,000 awarded by the Singapore’s National Research Foundation.

The group has filed patent in the US for the breakthrough discovery. The team projects that the prototype kit should be ready by mid-2014 and hopes to attract industry participation to bring the product to market. They expect to work with hospitals in Singapore and the region to validate the kit in the hospital laboratories.

Currently, all the available dengue kits in the market are diagnostic kits which confirm that a patient has dengue infection but are not able to predict the progression of the disease.

Not only will the new kit save patients, insurance companies and governments unwarranted hospitalisation cost, it will also improve overall treatment outcomes and care for dengue patients during epidemics, and most importantly, save lives. The kit will bring about tremendous socioeconomic impacts, especially to developing countries with regular dengue outbreaks.