Assistant Professor Lok is one of the recipients of the prestigious National Research Foundation Investigatorship.
Dengue Virus (DENV) infects approximately 100 million people each year. Increased travel, together with global climate change will result in further geographical expansion of the territory of the dengue mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti. There is an urgent need to develop safe and effective dengue therapeutics and vaccine.
In vitro experiments have shown that non-neutralizing antibodies can enhance DENV infection of Fc receptor bearing macrophages, one of the natural host cells for the virus. This suggested that the presence of non-neutralizing epitopes in a vaccine could potentially increase the chances that a person who had received the vaccine would develop the severe form of the disease, dengue hemorrhagic fever. For this reason, a more promising approach for engineering an effective DENV vaccine is to focus on including neutralizing epitopes. Thus, mapping of neutralizing epitopes is a necessary component of DENV vaccine research. Furthermore, understanding the neutralization mechanism of antibodies and the entry of DENV into the host cells also could aid in the design of targeted therapeutics.
The research in her laboratory therefore, focuses on the understanding of the pathology of dengue virus infection and the mechanism of neutralization by antibodies and other molecules so as to facilitate the development of suitable vaccines and therapeutics. A combination of molecular, immunological, biochemical and structural techniques (x ray crystallography and cryoEM image reconstruction techniques) will be used to achieve these aims.