The team, from the University of Texas Medical Branch, have written up their results in a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The crux of the breakthrough is that the team was able to analyse and decode the co-crystal structure of the dengue capsid protein, which makes up the core of the virus, in complex with an inhibitor; understanding this structure potentially opens up new potential methods of fighting the virus.
“There are four types of dengue virus, all of which can cause epidemics and disease in humans,” said Pei-Yong Shi, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “Using this new information, we will be able to design new drugs that can inhibit all types of dengue virus. In addition, the structural information will also enable us to make compounds with improved potency and drug-like properties.”
Dengue fever is present in various forms in over 100 countries around the world, and a staggering 40 per cent of the global population is at risk of dengue infection. Unsurprisingly, the World Health Organization lists it as a top-10 public health threat, making this a timely intervention.
“Although we are currently coping with the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the study’s lead author, Hongjie Xia, a postdoctoral fellow at the university, “Singapore and other regions are experiencing a record number of dengue human cases. This motivates our team to develop clinical treatments for this devastating disease.”
A mosquito-borne disease, dengue presents with a high fever, along with any two of the following symptoms: severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pains, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands, or a rash. In some cases, it can progress to a more severe infection, potentially leading to permanent damage or death. It is common in many countries that - during normal times at least - have high tourist turnover, such as Thailand; travel insurers wary of such destinations will no doubt be cheered to hear that scientists are taking positive strides to fight another viral menace.