Fighting Dengue in the Philippines

Image of the project team working in Manila

After a MRC-funded visit to Manila and a subsequent application to a joint health research call for partnerships between the UK and the Philippines, we were successfully awarded funds through the MRC-Newton scheme for a study entitled ‘3-D Targets: The UK-Philippines Dengue Diagnostic and Drug Targets Research Consortium’. The award brings together the Universities of Bristol and Glasgow in the UK and the University of the Philippines (Manila) along with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in the Philippines. Funding for partners in the Philippines comes from the Philippines Council for Health and Research Development (PCHRD). The principal aim of the study is to create a state-of-the-art framework and infrastructure in the Philippines which will support new methods for diagnosing Dengue virus infection and other diseases that arise from similar virus infections. Dengue infection causes a high disease burden in Southeast Asia, with the Philippines being one of the most affected countries. For example, there were 500,000 confirmed cases of Dengue between 2008-2012 in the country with more than 3000 deaths. A major problem, particularly in children, is an inability to predict those who may develop severe, life-threatening disease which forces high levels of hospital admission for safety purposes. As a result, the virus has a major impact on the health and economy of the country. By undertaking not just fundamental studies on Dengue-mediated disease but also developing unique computational tools, we aim to reduce the burden on healthcare services by working out biomarkers in the blood that can be used to predict those who are likely to develop severe disease.

So far, we have agreed with our colleagues in the Philippines the criteria for recruiting patients with Dengue or Dengue-like infection who can be recruited into a cohort that will provide both clinical data and blood samples for research purposes. We have also received some samples for initial studies to build our understanding of Dengue virus that is circulating in the local community and these data can be linked to the analysis at the University of Bristol for establishing predictors of severe disease caused by Dengue. We are also making visits to the Philippines to start to provide them with the training and expertise available in viral sequencing and bioinformatics at the CVR which they will need to introduce better diagnostics across the country. Plans are now underway for reciprocal visits by our Filipino colleagues to come to Glasgow so that they can experience first-hand the range of skills that might be transferred to their country. In addition, collaborative links with the Philippines are being extended to assess whether Zika virus circulates in the country and may underlie a higher prevalence of microcephaly in regions with a high mosquito burden.