During the 13th Dengue International Course in Havana, virology expert Alienys Izquierdo explained that specialists at the Cuban Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute (IPK) and the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center (CIGB), are working on the development of an immunogen.
It is a protein, a highly specific region of the virus which induces neutralizing antibodies. “In other words, if we have neutralizing antibodies, then we are going to have protection,” stated the expert, a member of the National Dengue Vaccine Project.
The first actions were to apply and evaluate monovalent formulae, one for each serotype of dengue (DEN-1, 2, 3 & 4). “Their effectiveness has been confirmed in controlling the multiplication of the virus in animals. Now is the time to mix these formulae and produce a tetravalent vaccine, which is currently being researched with mice and is going to be tested on non-human primates," she observed.
“We need to know what happens when the four proteins are mixed in a formula, bearing in mind that dengue carries four different viruses and the vaccine has to counteract each one of them.”
However, the expert acknowledged that it will take time to conclude the research and obtain an effective vaccine.
Meanwhile, IPK scientists are focusing their work on other areas of knowledge, not only about the illness in itself, but also the transmitting agent, the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Guadalupe Guzmán, head of the IPK Virology Department, stated that research is ongoing into the mosquito’s immunology and genetics, the vector’s resistance to insecticides, as well as public strategies including the population, related to its control.
She noted that asymptomatic infection is a priority, given that in the majority of cases persons do not have a clinical symptomology.
“We are generally concerned about serious cases, when lives have to be saved, but know little of what asymptomatic infection means from the transmission point of view.”
Some 300 international experts took part in the meeting, which is organized biannually in the IPK facilities. The scientific agenda includes conferences and symposiums on integral, clinical vigilance, environmental risk factors, community-based participation and control of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
There were also practical sessions and meetings of experts, affirmed Dr. María Guadalupe Guzmán, president of the organizing committee.
During one of the sessions, Luís Gerardo Castellanos, coordinator of the Unattended Tropical Diseases Transmitted by Vectors Unit, attached to the Pan American and World Health Organizations (PAHO-WHO) in Washington, praised Cuba’s experience in controlling vectors.
He said that while these continue being a challenge, the country has many strengths and possesses one of the best organized structures for combating them, a practice from which the PAHO-WHO is benefiting by extending it to other nations.