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Researchers Make Important Breakthrough That Could Lead To 'Universal' Flu Vaccine

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Two lately released studies have been creating a buzz as both claim the possibility of a "universal" flu vaccine in the near future. The breakthrough discovery of both teams may signify that influenza, which has been repeatedly occurring season by season, may finally be prevented with a long-lasting vaccine.

Predicting the type of influenza strain that will become rampant each season is something that has been keeping scientists on their feet. Experts regularly investigate on this matter so that the annual flu vaccine shot given to the public may serve its purpose and combat the virulent strain for that particular year. Nonetheless, people still keep on getting ill because some vaccines do not have the ability to fight some strains. Now, two separate researches have emerged claiming that the formulation of a vaccine that can fight against multiple flu strains over an extended time is slowly nearing its possibility.

Both researches were based on the concept that the stem of a protein known as hemagglutinin (HA) found on the surface of the influenza virus does not change even if its head does. The scientists were able to identify a way to utilize the stem to initiate an immune response that could neutralize the virus or attack the infected cells.

For the first research, the group of scientists headed by Hadi Yassine from the Vaccine Research Center at the US National Institutes of Health attached ferritin, a tiny protein, onto the HA stem, which does not have a head. Next, the scientists vaccinated the study mice and ferrets, then infected them with an H5N1 (bird flu) virus, which is said to be minimally communicable but may result in more than 50 percent of deaths among people. The findings of this study, published in the journal Nature, show that the mice were fully protected against the flu virus and majority of the ferrets did not become ill as well. A second batch of samples was also injected with antibodies from the survivor group and most of them did not appear to get affected after being subjected to a lethal dose of the virus.

The second study, published in the journal Science led by Antonietta Impagliazzo of the Crucell Vaccine Institute, also devised an HA vaccine that does not contain a head. Aside from being effective in mice, the formulated vaccine also showed promising results for monkeys as the species developed significant amounts of antibodies that alleviated its fever after an H1N1 infection, which contrary to bird flu, is highly communicable but less fatal.

"The [experimental] designs were different, but the end results were very similar and highly complementary," comments Ian Wilson, a co-author of the study published in Science. The results signify a promising initial step and how this research will bloom in the future is very exciting.

Although "universal" flu vaccines are yet to be finalized and made available, these two new studies offer hope that more improved vaccine formulations are on the way.

Photo: Daniel Paquet | Flickr

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