No More Flu Season?

New discovery brings hope for universal flu vaccine

(RxWiki News) Your annual flu shot protects you against the three strains of flu viruses expected to be common that year. But what if there was one vaccine that protect you against every type of flu?

Researchers believe they are an important step closer to a universal flu vaccine – a long lasting vaccine that protects humans against all strains of influenza virus, including the dangerous swine and avian strains.

The key is a type of molecule that's found in nearly all versions of the virus.

"Be sure to get your flu shot each season."

The study was led by Dr. Tom Wilkinson of the University of Southampton in the UK, and published in Nature Medicine.

A global flu virus is a major public health concern, especially after recent scares with bird flu and the H1N1 virus migrating across the world. Health experts worry about a virulent strain of flu spreading rapidly and killing scores of people, before researchers have time to develop and distribute enough vaccine to stop it.

Flu vaccines currently work by producing an antibody response to molecules on the surface of the virus. But these molecules vary between strains. That's why vaccines need to be updated each year, as the flu evolves.

The major discovery is that molecules called internal peptides are shared between almost all strains of the virus. That means if scientists figure out how to activate the immune system against these peptides, they could create a “universal” vaccine.

Peptides are protein building blocks which are part of the internal structure of the virus. They don't change as quickly as the surface molecules targeted by the current vaccine, and they instigate a rapid response from immune system T cells.

T cells have the ability to provide a longer-lasting immunity than an antibody response.

The vaccine was tested in healthy volunteers, monitored in a sterile environment. They were injected with the virus and blood samples were taken to measure their immune response.

Researchers found that the immune system had a powerful T cell response to several strains of the virus.

The discovery could help researchers design a future vaccine against new and emerging flu strains.

The study was published in January 2012.

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Review Date: 
February 1, 2012