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article imageDiscovery of New Antibodies May Yield Influenza Magic Bullet

By Lenny Stoute     Feb 24, 2009 in Health
We're not there yet but researchers are working with a newly discovered range of antibodies which could yield a new range of weapons in the fight against the flu.
This could be the start of something big. A huge reason why we haven't fully embraced the flu shot is its maddening inconsistency. This is down to the bug's ability to mutate a step ahead of the vaccine. Add to that not all flu viruses are alike, meaning specific vaccines for specific regions/groups of people and even its biggest fans admit it's less than an exact science.
So while the flu shot wins a lot of 'em, the ultimate jackpot of winning all of 'em could be within grasp.
Scientists in the US have found human antibodies that kill a broad range of influenza A viruses. This discovery raises hopes of better flu drugs and a more effective, longer lasting flu shot.
The discovery of monoclonal antibodies targeting a vulnerability in the virus suggests medicine finally may be able to find a way to neutralize the virus's maddening ability to evade the immune system through constant mutation.
The virus' ability to keep shape shifting is why people don't develop life-long immunity after catching the flu and why flu shots have to be reformulated almost annually to keep pace. When human trials begin, the focus will be on the near-term prospect of a drug that could be given to prevent infection or as a treatment to cut short illness after infection.
Because these antibodies kill a range of influenza A viruses — 10 of 16 influenza A subtypes — they could be stockpiled by countries which could use them to protect critical workers in the early days of a pandemic, regardless of the strain that triggered the outbreak.
Researchers caution that we're still a long way from the Holy Grail of influenza science — a single vaccine that targets all forms of the flu. While the antibodies have been shown to kill viruses, it's unclear how an effective vaccine can be designed that targets the unchanging part of the key protein on the virus's surface revealed by the new discovery.
The work was done by researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, Calif., and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, with funding from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
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