A Universal Vaccine in Progress
Each year, the flu returns in a different form and although scientists routinely develop new seasonal vaccines to fight the virus and its secondary infections, the number of flu casualties remains high. Fortunately, new research reveals that we may be a step closer to making a universal vaccine which protects against multiple strains of the flu.
A team of scientists, led by the University of California, Los Angeles, reported they have designed a vaccine which boosts the immune system’s capacity to combat multiple viral strains. The vaccine can trigger a strong immune response without making infected animals sick while also triggering a strong reaction from disease-fighting white blood cells known as T cells.
Typical flu vaccines are comprised of several strains of killed flu virus, preventing T cell reactions from occurring. However, the new vaccine employs a live virus that can incur both an antibody response and T cell immunity. The sustained T cell response could defend against a variety of flu strains and grant longer term protection than current vaccines do.
According to Kathleen Sullivan, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, this new vaccine “has the magic of both great antibody response and inducing a strong, strong T cell response that will be a safety net—so if a virus breaks through the first line of defense, you will have T cells to make sure you don’t get very sick.”
Still, there is always the concern of the live virus reverting to its original, more dangerous form. The UCLA researchers believe this possibility is unlikely since they included “eight mutations in their lab-made viral strain.”
“There are lots of practical questions about rolling this out for humans,” says Sullivan. “But this is hugely innovative and exciting.”
If this vaccine does prove to be effective in humans, people may no longer have to worry about getting their annual flu shot.