Developing Safer Zika and Dengue Vaccines

Developing Safer Zika and Dengue Vaccines

More than 400 million Dengue and Zika virus infections occur each year worldwide. The effort to develop vaccines against these mosquito-borne infections has been hobbled by a phenomenon known as antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) of infection. In ADE, people previously infected with one strain of a virus develop antibodies to that strain; but if they’re later infected with a different viral strain, their initial antibodies may cross-react poorly with the second strain and actually increase the severity of the ensuing illness. There’s an urgent need to develop vaccine that won’t elicit disease-enhancing antibodies.

In a study involving Dengue virus published online on February 28 in Cell Chemical Biology, Jonathan Lai, Ph.D., and colleagues used a protein engineering technique called structure-guided phage display to show that masking of vaccine immunogen epitopes (viral sites that antibodies are made against) can focus the immune response and selectively change the types of antibodies produced after vaccination, resulting in reduced ADE against Dengue. The study’s findings are an important step towards developing safe and effective vaccines for Zika and Dengue viruses.

Dr. Lai is professor of biochemistry at Einstein.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine has filed a patent application related to this research and is seeking licensing partners able to further develop and commercialize this technology. Interested parties can contact the Office of Biotechnology and Business Development at

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