March 13, 2013
Universal Flu Vaccine Could Come With Novel Strain Research
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
A universal flu vaccine that could offer better protection against both seasonal and pandemic outbreaks of the virus could soon be on the way, thanks to the efforts of researchers who claim that they have discovered a way to predict and possibly halt mutating influenza cells.
Katherine Kedzierska, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne´s Department of Microbiology and Immunology in Australia, and colleagues report that they have learned how influenza viruses are able to dodge T cell immunity through the introduction of specific types of mutations within the viral proteins.
“The studies suggested that an influenza vaccine that targets T cells and recognizes distinct virus strains could provide universal immunity against any future influenza strain,” University of Melbourne professor Peter Doherty explained in a statement Tuesday.
However, they can promote T cell immunity by predicting how the flu cells will mutate and develop new vaccines specially designed to help protect against these kinds of mutations, he added.
The research will also help the medical community better understand how these particular white blood cells function when dealing with other types of viral infections, including HIV and Hepatitis C. Their findings are detailed in the latest edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
“The introduction of a new influenza strain into human circulation leads to a rapid global spread of the virus due to minimal antibody immunity,” Kedzierska said. “White blood cells called T cells are highly efficient in fighting influenza virus infection. Thus, established T cell immunity towards particular viral regions can provide ℠universal´ immunity against distinct seasonal and pandemic influenza strains.”
“However, influenza viruses can mutate their genes to escape efficient T cells. This constitutes a major problem for a design of a universal vaccine,” she added. Kedzierska´s team´s work could be the first step in changing all of that and developing a universal vaccine that can help combat the estimated three to five million cases of severe illness that result each year from seasonal influenza epidemics.
Earlier this year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that the flu vaccine had been largely ineffective in treating the illness. According to statistics released by the organization in February, the vaccine translated to a 56 percent lower chance of seeking treatment for the flu.
Furthermore, Americans over the age of 65 saw only a 27 percent rate of effectiveness against this season´s three strains of the virus — the worst success rate in nearly a decade, according to a February 22 report from redOrbit.com´s own Brett Smith.