Many Americans have never heard of dengue fever, yet it is one of the most common human viral diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. Infection with dengue virus typically causes a serious flu-like illness known as dengue fever. In severe cases, infection results in dengue hemorrhagic fever, which is fatal in more than 20 percent of people affected and causes an estimated 22,000 deaths globally each year. In response to this threat to global health, NIAID is leading the federal government’s research effort on dengue, for which no treatments or vaccines exist currently.
Dengue is found in more than 100 countries with tropical and subtropical climates, including Africa, the Americas, the eastern Mediterranean, and Southeast Asia and the western Pacific. Its incidence and geographic distribution have increased dramatically over the past 50 years, and it could soon become even more of a global concern if it continues to spread into temperate climates.
Approximately 50 to 100 million people worldwide become infected each year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that dengue is established in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and introduced recently to southern Florida. Mosquitoes that can carry dengue are widespread in the semi-tropical and temperate areas of the mainland United States. The spread of the disease and risk to the United States make finding a way to prevent dengue infection an important priority at NIAID.
NIAID supports both basic and applied research on dengue and funded more than 50 research projects in FY 2010 for a total of approximately $44 million (Figure 1). The budget was distributed between basic research examining how the virus infects cells and causes disease (62 percent) and research aimed at developing vaccines (24 percent), therapeutics (12 percent), and diagnostic tests (2 percent) for dengue (Figure 2). Most of NIAID’s funding in dengue research (89 percent) was awarded to extramural investigators conducting studies across the United States and abroad (Figure 2).
NIAID’s dedication to basic research has helped identify the cellular components that allow the dengue virus to multiply inside mosquitoes and humans, pointing the way to possible treatments. The Institute also supports the development of novel anti-dengue drugs that are undergoing further evaluation. In FY 2010, the dengue research program received a boost of $4 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enabling NIAID to advance studies of the immune system’s response to viral infection, the effects of dengue vaccination at mucosal sites (such as the respiratory or gastrointestinal tracts), and the development of innovative vaccine development strategies.
To identify future opportunities for dengue research collaboration, NIAID planned a meeting in FY 2010 that brought together CDC and the Pan American Health Organization the following year. At the meeting, Re-Emerging Challenge in the Americas: Opportunities for Dengue Research Collaboration, experts discussed the biology and disease-causing mechanisms of dengue, how the virus spreads, interactions of the virus with mosquitoes, and effects of the virus on the human immune system.
In August 2010, after 10 years of intense research, NIAID intramural researchers announced the development of an experimental vaccine against dengue. This new vaccine is designed to protect against all four strains of the dengue virus. Clinical trials to evaluate the safety of this vaccine in healthy adults are under way in the United States, and NIAID is planning trials of the vaccine in countries where dengue is common to test its efficacy in protecting against the disease.
Other NIAID-supported investigators are using a variety of technologies to improve vaccine delivery and the resulting response of the human immune system to the vaccine. For example, in FY 2010 NIAID awarded a contract to develop a novel dengue vaccine that can be delivered through the skin without the use of needles and to conduct clinical trials that evaluate the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine in the United States and abroad.
NIAID also supports studies to improve the diagnosis of this viral disease. One project that received funding in FY 2010 is focused on developing an automated, portable, rapid diagnostic device that could be used at the point of care. Researchers have developed prototypes of this device and plan to evaluate it using patient samples.
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Last Updated November 17, 2011
Last Reviewed August 08, 2011