Scientists here discover important role of a type of white blood cell which can destroy dengue cells

SINGAPORE - Some 390 million people are infected with dengue worldwide but to date, there has been no cure found for the endemic disease.

A recent study led by a team of scientists from the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and National University of Singapore's Yang Loo Lin School of Medicine found that a type of white blood cell located in the skin plays a vital role in destroying dengue cells.

The cells called T lymphocytes (T cells) can prevent the dengue-infected cells from multiplying in the body. These white blood cells are mostly found in the skin.

Explaining the finding's significance, one of the researchers involved in the study, Associate Professor Paul Macary from the NUS School of Medicine said that the study shows the importance of T cells in developing an effective dengue vaccine.

To date, the development of most dengue vaccines has been focused on isolating another type of white blood cell which produces antibodies to kill the dengue cells.

The study, which began about five years ago, involved collecting blood samples from 200 adult patients aged 21 - 67 who were treated here for dengue. The cells which could recognise the dengue virus were then isolated and separated from other cells in the blood samples.

A principal investigator of the study Dr Laura Rivino, who is from the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, said the next step would be to find out how these T cells can be induced during vaccination.

The findings of the study were published in March this year in journal Science Translation Medicine.

In 2013, dengue cases here hit a record of 22,170 with seven deaths reported.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.