New mouse model helps in dengue study

SINGAPORE - Scientists are one step closer to developing a drug and vaccine to combat dengue.

Researchers from the Singapore-MIT Alliance of Research and Technology's Infectious Diseases Interdisciplinary Research Group have devised a humanised mouse model that could potentially lead to a medical breakthrough to tackle the mosquito-borne disease.

Under this model, laboratory mice are injected with human foetal liver stem cells to replicate the human immune system in their bodies. After three months, they are injected with the dengue virus.

The researchers have discovered through tests on the mice that the low blood platelet count in dengue patients is caused by the virus inhibiting platelet production in the bone marrow.

"This allows us to better test any drug. If the mice are reacting to the drug, then there should be no platelet drop," said Dr Aishwarya Sridharan, 26, who is part of the six-man research team.

The research comes amid the worst dengue outbreak in Singapore, with 15,700 stricken by the disease so far this year. Conducted over the past five years, the study focused on only Type 2 dengue.

The finding is significant as dengue only affects humans, and no animal model could be used to test the efficacy of any drug or vaccine previously. Past dengue studies with humanised mouse models were unsuccessful in detecting the presence of human platelets in the mice. The researchers said they plan to test lab mice for the other three dengue types.

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