Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of infection by the dengue virus, yet there is no specific treatment for the disease. Now a therapy to protect people from the virus could finally be a step closer, thanks to a team at MIT. In a paper published online on April 8, 2013 in PNAS, the researchers, from MIT’s Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research, present a novel approach to developing a dengue therapy using mutated antibodies. According to a study by the International Research Consortium on Dengue Risk Assessment, Management, and Surveillance, up to 390 million people are infected with the dengue virus each year. For most people the mosquito-borne virus causes flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, and joint pain. But for some, particularly children, the virus can develop into the far more serious dengue hemorrhagic fever, causing severe blood loss and even death. Despite the threat posed by the disease, developing a vaccine against dengue has so far proven challenging, according to Dr. Ram Sasisekharan, the Alfred H. Caspary Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT. That’s because dengue is not one virus but four different viruses, or serotypes, each of which must be neutralized by the vaccine. Protecting people from only one or some of the four viruses could cause them to develop the more severe form of dengue if they later become infected with one of the other serotypes, in a process known as antibody-dependent enhancement, Dr. Sasisekharan says. “That was the motivation for carrying out our study, to generate a fully neutralizing antibody that works for all four serotypes.” Efforts to develop a therapeutic antibody for dengue are focused on a part of the virus called the envelope protein.
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