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article imageEssential Science: Edging towards a universal flu vaccine?

By Tim Sandle     Nov 4, 2019 in Science
Virologists are edging closer to developing a universal flu vaccine, based on an antibody that attaches to a protein. Given that flu viruses require this protein to reproduce in the body, this could provide the basis for a ‘universal’ vaccine.
Ahead of each influenza seasons, virologists attempt to predict which strains of the virus are most likely to spread. This provides the basis for developing the appropriate vaccine. Selecting the flu type to be vaccinated each year is a complex process, requiring a data review and working with other scientists around the world. The data used for selection is drawn from the World Health Organization's Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System which includes the 140-odd national influenza centers across the globe; here, an array of computer modeling and data-visualization programs are utilized for analysis of sequence and antigenic information.
This process doesn’t always work out, due to different epidemiological factors. One answer to this lies in a universal influenza vaccine, although this has remained out of reach – at least until now.
The consequences of selecting the wrong vaccine, coupled with many people not wanting or not being able to afford to vaccinated, are that seasonal influenza, causes millions of hospitalizations each year. In addition, there are between 12,000 and 79,000 deaths in the U.S. alone each year.
Experimental work
The study comes from Scripps Research conducted jointly with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Here the researchers used three human monoclonal antibodies isolated from an H3N2-infected donor. These were shown to bind to multiple different influenza A and B virus neuraminidases. These antibodies work by inhibiting neuraminidase activity within the flu virus by directly binding to the active site.
A young woman shows off her flu shot after receiving vaccine at a local drug store.
A young woman shows off her flu shot after receiving vaccine at a local drug store.
Whoisjohngalt (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Inhibiting neuraminidase is seen as key to preventing the viruses, since the protein enables infected host cells to release the virus, so it can spread to other cells.
Tests using mice have successfully demonstrated how the antibody protects the rodent against various flu strains. It was found that one antibody, termed “1G01,” protected the mice against all twelve strains tested. The test strains included all three groups of human flu virus plus avian and other nonhuman strains.
Research in motion
The following video provides more detail about the research:
Universal vaccine
Speaking with Laboratory Roots magazine, lead researcher Dr. Ali Ellebedy said: “Imagine if we could have one vaccine that protected against all influenza strains, including human, swine and other highly lethal avian influenza viruses. This antibody could be the key to the design of a truly universal vaccine.”
Going forwards, the researchers hope that structural and functional characterization of the antibodies will lead to the development of neuraminidase-based universal vaccines, which should be effective against influenza viruses.
Research paper
The research is published in the journal Science. The research paper is titled “Broadly protective human antibodies that target the active site of influenza virus neuraminidase.”
Other avenues
In alternative research, Georgia State University virologists are developing a candidate universal flu vaccine designed to induce responses to the protein stalk part of the influenza surface glycoprotein, instead of the typical target of the head (which is the typical target). The aim is to develop a vaccine based on nanotechnology.
Essential Science
Woman playing a VR game at the Samsung store in London.
Woman playing a VR game at the Samsung store in London.
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we weighed in on evidence that suggests too much screen time, for young people, is correlated with an increased consumption of sugary-foods (and obesity) and excessive caffeine intake. This draws a connection between the use of devices and unhealthy habits.
The week before we looked at the agri-businesses, especially the adoption of AgriTech and the use of economics, which come together to help to improve agricultural production.
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