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Researchers Edge Closer to Cure for Dengue Fever

This is an artist's rendering of the antibody 2D22 neutralizing the dengue virus serotype 2. (Credit: Guntur Fibriansah / Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore)

Researchers are inching closer toward the development of a treatment and cure for dengue fever, which affects an estimated 400 million people each year.

Caused by a mosquito-borne virus, dengue fever causes severe, flu-like symptoms, and in particularly bad cases that are caused by repeated infection, the disease can be fatal.

In a study published in the journal Science, researchers in the U.S. and Singapore describe the discovery of a potent human antibody that neutralizes dengue type 2, an aggressive version of the virus.

Discovered in the blood of patients stricken with dengue, the monoclonal antibody is a protein that zaps one of the four types of the fever.

James Crowe, director of the Vaccine Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee and a co-author of the study, said the monoclonal antibody stops infection in humans at the cellular level.

“The virus injects its own genes in the cell to make more of itself," he said. "And this antibody actually stapes the virus closed so it can’t do that injecting of its own genes into cells.”

In experiments with mice, the human monoclonal antibody easily killed dengue type 2.

Crowe said he thought the discovery would lead to a drug to treat all four types of dengue fever.

“We believe that it is possible to find similar antibodies" that would work against the other dengue types, he said. "So, if we actually move forward in developing a therapeutic for humans, it probably would be a mixture or cocktail of four antibodies, and this would be one of the antibodies that corresponds to one of the four viruses.”

Crowe said researchers are in talks with a number of drug companies interested in using the discovery to develop a cure for dengue fever.

Note: An earlier version of this story indicated 400 people, rather than 400 million people, are afffected by dengue fever. VOA regrets the error.