Finland and India join forces to combat infectious diseases
Finnish and Indian researchers are jointly developing new diagnostic methods for detecting viruses that cause dengue fever, tropical parasitic diseases and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). Gaining more accurate knowledge about the mechanisms of viral diseases and the characteristics of different viruses will advance the future development of treatments and vaccinations. The research projects are jointly funded by the Academy of Finland and an Indian research funding organisation, the Indian Department of Biotechnology.
One of the challenges in developing diagnostic methods is to distinguish, for example, between the virus causing dengue fever and other flaviviruses, which also cause different types of infections. The dengue virus research team is currently investigating the ways in which the human body defends itself against the dengue virus by using endogenous antibodies. Understanding the antibody reactions is the key to reliable diagnostics.
“We’ve prepared so-called genome fragment libraries for the dengue virus. These libraries can be used to produce large quantities of small parts of proteins, or peptides, and from among these peptides, we attempt to identify those which are capable of binding to the antibodies generated by the body systems of patients with dengue,” explains Urpo Lamminmäki, Docent at the University of Turku, who heads the Finnish component of the project. When protein fragments are found that are characteristic of the dengue virus, they are joined together, by genetic engineering, to form a multiepitope protein. “This synthetic protein can be used for the purposes of developing diagnostic testing methods to detect dengue virus antibodies in patients’ blood samples.”
Getting a correct diagnosis is vital since, at its worst, dengue fever may be fatal for the patient. The first infection usually results in mild, flu-like symptoms. The second infection, however, may cause a severe haemorrhagic fever and shock. There is no vaccine for the disease, nor are there any reliable serodiagnostic methods available. Dengue virus appears in four different subtypes, which also increases the challenge in terms of developing reliable diagnostics.
Each year, hundreds of millions of individuals all around the world are infected with tropical viral diseases. For example, approximately 50–100 million people are estimated to become infected with dengue virus. Along with expanding tourism, Finnish travellers are increasingly exposed to tropical diseases. In the Northern hemisphere, on the other hand, tick-borne encephalitis caused by the TBE virus is a problem. The TBE virus is also a flavivirus.
The dengue virus is also being investigated in another Finnish-Indian joint project, which, in Finland, is headed by Professor Olli Vapalahti from the University of Helsinki. This team is also studying the TBE virus causing tick-borne encephalitis. The project aims at developing methods for diagnostics of viruses and potential tools for vaccine development.
Professor Rikkert Wierenga is heading one of the joint projects at the University of Oulu. Together with Indian colleagues, his research team is applying bioinformatics and structural biology methods to develop new pharmaceuticals to combat tropical parasitic diseases.
The Academy of Finland collaborates with Indian research funding organisations by means of joint calls for funding in various fields of science. The intention of these joint calls is to promote Finnish-Indian cooperation. A particular aim is to support long-term and systematic cooperation and to establish and strengthen collaborative networks between Finland and India.
PhD Urpo Lamminmäki, University of Turku, tel. +358 2 333 8052, +358 50 431 3747, urplammi(at)utu.fi
Professor Olli Vapalahti, University of Helsinki, tel. +358 40 838 4015, olli.vapalahti(at)helsinki.fi
Professor Rikkert Wierenga, University of Oulu, tel. +358 8 553 1199, rik.wierenga(at)oulu.fi
Academy of Finland’s Finnish-Indian project cooperation:
Senior Science Adviser Jaana Roos, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 9 7748 8338, jaana.roos(at)aka.fi
Academy of Finland Communications
tel. +358 9 7748 8369, riitta.tirronen(at)aka.fi