Scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia and China’s Zhu Jiang Hospital may have taken the first step in producing a viable vaccine against the dengue virus. The research focusses on an antibody, called 3E31, which shows great promise.
Dengue is caused by four distinct types of viral species, making it hard to develop a targeted vaccine. The dengue virus is made up of a shell of proteins, with one, dubbed the E protein, being the major site of attachment and activation. Once the virus binds to a host cell, it enters by fusing with the membrane, releasing its DNA and kick-starting the infection process.
The 3E31 antibody exhibits properties that have eluded previous iterations. It shows specificity and a great affinity for all four types of viral species by binding to a single hidden site on the E protein — a weak spot of sorts. This stops the virus from fusing with the host cell. Additionally, it does not increase the risk of secondary infection, as previous vaccines have done.
These experiments were conducted in mice cell cultures using settings that mimicked the actual disease process. The next step will be replicating these experiments in a human model to inform vaccine design using the newly developed antibody.
With 390 million people being infected world wide, these experiments could lead to a broad-spectrum vaccine that could help in combating this highly infectious disease.
Geetanjali Rangnekar is a science communicator and editor, based in Adelaide, Australia.