Researchers a step closer to finding one-size-fits-all vaccine for all influenza
Deadly SARS, MERS has sped up research to find cures for non-lethal forms of influenza
Scientists say that they are a step closer to an universal flu vaccine to stave off new strains of bird and swine flu. For decades, creating a vaccine to protect against all forms of flu has eluded scientists - but that path has been shortened thanks to the dedicated research of British scientists.
Current vaccines only target the most common strains by making the immune system produce antibodies to prevent infection, remaining resolutely behind the virus, which keeps evolving.
Scientists at Imperial College London used the outbreak as a "unique" natural experiment to investigate. The question remained: Why did some people fall ill, while others did not? Hundreds of staff and students donated blood samples when the pandemic rose. Test subjects were then monitored over the next two flu seasons.
Those who did not fall ill had more virus-killing immune cells, CD8 T cells in their blood at the start of the pandemic, the study found. Therefore, a new vaccine would work by prompting the body to produce these cells to fend off the virus.
"New strains of flu are continuously emerging, some of which are deadly, and so the holy grail is to create a universal vaccine that would be effective against all strains of flu," Professor Ajit Lalvani from the National Heart and Lung Institute said, He adds that the discovery has provided the "blueprint" for a vaccine.
Influenza kills between 250,000 and 500,000 globally per year, according to the World Health Organization.
Hot on the heels of this recent announcement, scientists in America said they thought they might have developed "universal" protection against the killer virus.
U.S. Researchers, speaking last May, said the vaccine was created by a team working for U.S. healthcare company Sanofi. The procedure used techniques that have also raised hopes of a new generation of vaccines against other diseases.
Professor Lalvani's team recruited 342 staff and students at Imperial to take part in their study in autumn 2009, following the outbreak of the flu.
"Our findings suggest that by making the body produce more of this specific type of CD8 T cell, you can protect people against symptomatic illness. This provides the blueprint for developing a universal flu vaccine. We already know how to stimulate the immune system to make CD8 T cells by vaccination," Lalvani says.
"Now that we know these T cells may protect, we can design a vaccine to prevent people getting symptoms and transmitting infection to others.
"This could curb seasonal flu annually and protect people against future pandemics."
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