July 29, 2011

Scientists Discover Influenza ‘Super Antibody’

Scientists have found a flu "super antibody" they say may be a turning point in the development of new flu treatments.

The researchers say the "super antibody" called FI6 can fight all types of influenza A viruses that cause disease.

The team used a new method aimed at beating "needle-in-a-haystack-type-odds" and managed to identify an antibody from a human patient that neutralizes both main groups of influenza A viruses.

They said that although it is an early step, it is an important one, and in time it may pave the way for the development of a universal flu vaccine.

Vaccine makers have to change formulations of their flu shots every year to make sure they protect against the strains of the virus circulating. 

"As we saw with the 2009 pandemic, a comparatively mild strain of influenza can place a significant burden on emergency services. Having a universal treatment which can be given in emergency circumstances would be an invaluable asset," John Skehel of Britain's National Institute for Medical Research told Reuters.

Antonio Lanzavecchia, Humabs' chief scientific officer and director of the Swiss Institute for Research in Biomedicine, said high rates of seasonal flu and the unpredictability of possible future pandemics underlined the need for better treatments that target flu viruses.

The researchers said that when someone is infected with the flu virus, their antibodies target the virus' hemagglutinin protein. 

There are currently 16 different subtypes of influenza A due to this protein evolving so rapidly.

Humans usually produce antibodies to a specific subtype, and new vaccines are made each year to match these strains.

Scientists need to identify the molecular signatures that prompt the development of broadly neutralizing antibodies.

Once the researchers identified FI6, they injected it into mice and ferrets and found it protected the animals against infection by either a Group 1 or Group 2 influenza A virus.

"As the first and only antibody which targets all known subtypes of the influenza A virus, FI6 represents an important new treatment option," Lanzavecchia said in a statement.

The research was published in the journal Science on Thursday.


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