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Study May Lead To Improved Influenza Vaccine And Vaccines For Other Serious Respiratory Virus Infections

January 18, 2011

A collaborative project between researchers at the Trudeau Institute and their colleagues at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., offers new insights that may lead to an improved strategy to protect against the influenza virus and other viruses that infect the respiratory tract.

The study examines the migration of white blood cells to the mucosal tissues of the nose in response to a viral infection.

“As a result of this study, we learned that cells arrive early during the infection and persist at the site for months afterward, providing a first line of defense against a second infection with the virus,” said David L. Woodland, Ph.D., president and director of the Trudeau Institute and one of the study’s authors. 

“These cells are “Ëœsoldiers’ that guard nasal passages and combat viruses at their site of entry.  In the future, a single application of vaccine by nasal spray or drops may be all that is needed for long-term protection against some serious respiratory virus infections,” said Dr. Julia L. Hurwitz, Ph.D., Full Member of the Department of Infectious Diseases at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

This new information, reported in the current issue of the scientific journal Virology, has major implications for future vaccine research and could lead to the development of vaccines designed to promote immunity to respiratory infections.

“The migration patterns and characteristics of these cells are of particular interest, since they are the very cells one would like to elicit with a vaccine,” said Woodland.

Scientists are working toward the ultimate goal of developing a universal flu vaccine, capable of protecting against all strains of flu, including seasonal and those that develop into pandemics. Vaccines for the parainfluenza viruses and respiratory syncytial virus are also being sought. The Trudeau and St. Jude research groups are optimistic that this new information is an important contribution to that end.

Funding for the research was provided by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 36,000 deaths occur in the United States each year, the result of complications from influenza, and the World Health Organization estimates that flu annually claims between 250,000 and half a million lives around the globe.

The Trudeau Institute is an independent, not-for-profit, biomedical research organization, whose scientific mission is to make breakthrough discoveries leading to improved human health. Trudeau researchers are identifying the basic mechanisms used by the immune system to combat viruses like influenza, mycobacteria, such as tuberculosis, parasites and cancer, so that better vaccines and therapies can be developed for fighting deadly disease. The research is supported by government grants and philanthropic contributions.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering research and treatment of children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Ranked the No. 1 pediatric cancer hospital by Parents magazine and the No. 1 children’s cancer hospital by U.S. News & World Report, St. Jude is the first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. St. Jude has treated children from all 50 states and from around the world, serving as a trusted resource for physicians and researchers. St. Jude has developed research protocols that helped push overall survival rates for childhood cancer from less than 20 percent when the hospital opened to almost 80 percent today. St. Jude is the national coordinating center for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium and the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. In addition to pediatric cancer research, St. Jude is also a leader in sickle cell disease research and is a globally prominent research center for influenza.

Founded in 1962 by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, St. Jude freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world, publishing more research articles than any other pediatric cancer research center in the United States. St. Jude treats more than 5,700 patients each year and is the only pediatric cancer research center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance. St. Jude is financially supported by thousands of individual donors, organizations and corporations without which the hospital’s work would not be possible. In 2010, St. Jude was ranked the most trusted charity in the nation in a public survey conducted by Harris Interactive, a highly respected international polling and research firm. For more information, go to www.stjude.org.

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