“Universal” Flu Vaccine May Save Humans From Next Influenza Pandemics

Scientists are joining forces to develop a new universal flu vaccine able to protect humans from all strains of this constantly mutating virus. The vaccine has already shown to offer significant protection in mice.

A universal flu vaccine

Though scientists still have to test whether the vaccine is safe and revolutionary in humans — clinical trials could begin in about a year — they hope the vaccine could prevent both seasonal flu and future influenza pandemics.

“We think this is a very simple, practical, straightforward approach to trying to make a vaccine that might offer broad protection in humans,” said study researcher Jeff Taubenberger, a pathologist and infectious-disease specialist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Save lives, dollars in next flu outbreak

Each year, scientists create a flu vaccine that protects against a few specific influenza strains. New vaccines must match the particular viruses that are circulating, such as H1N1, for them to offer protection.

Different strains of the flu virus can mix and match their genes to make news combinations. They mutate quickly and are able to evade the immunity from vaccines thus having significant impact of morbidity and mortality. These factors explain why the 2015 flu shot for instance didn’t work as well as hoped as the dominant flu strain’s genetic code changed.

Because vaccines are unlikely to protect against a “divergent strain” of the flu virus, or a new pandemic, scientists are developing a so-called “universal” vaccine, saving humans from a wide variety of lethal influenza.

“What we have done is design a strategy where you don’t have to think about matching the vaccine antigen to the virus at all,” Taubenberger explained.

“Universal” Flu Vaccine May Save Humans From Next Influenza Pandemics - Clapway

A pre-pandemic vaccine

Researchers used a virus-like particle “vaccine cocktail” that expressed a handful of different subtypes of a key surface protein of the influenza virus. They hoped that the different viral proteins could stimulate the development of “cross-protective immunity” against multiple subtypes. To do so, researchers picked specific subtypes (H1, H3, H5 and H7) that have been the major causes of human seasonal flu outbreaks since 1918 and recent bird flu epidemics.

Overall, they said there are 16 different hemagglutinin subtypes that circulate in birds and are thought to be the basis for current and future influenza pandemics.

Successful in protecting mice

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that 95% of mice vaccinated with the “vaccine cocktail” were protected against a lethal challenge with eight different influenza strains expressing seven different influenza. Almost all of the animals that were vaccinated survived.

Additional experiments showed that the flu vaccine was durable; effective for at least 6 months, and that it worked well in older mice. The study was first published in the journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

What do you think of this new universal flu vaccine and future influenza pandemics? Share your views in the comments section below.


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