Universal flu vaccination may be on the horizon

Universal vaccination against current and future influenza outbreaks could be possible following the development of antibodies that can bind to multiple strains of the virus.

Dr Wayne Marasco and his team from Harvard Medical School engineered human antibodies that protected mice against a broad array of flu strains, including the H5N1 avian flu and the H1N1 1918 Spanish flu.

The researchers selected antibodies that bound to the haemagglutinin protein, which forms part of the virus and has components which are largely unchanged across strains.

Haemagglutinin allows the virus to attach to host cells and invade them. By binding to this region, the antibodies were able to stop this process and thereby protect mice from infection.

The authors of an accompanying comment piece say the new research represents an important advance in the characterisation of conserved regions of the influenza virus and brings the development of a universal virus vaccine closer.

'A universal influenza virus vaccine would represent a tremendous medical advancement,' they said.

'The influenza vaccine is by far the most effective means of preventing infection, but current vaccines leave room for improvement as they require near-annual reformulation and accurate prediction of circulating strains for the upcoming season,' they pointed out.

However, they warn that creating such a vaccine, and showing that it would be safe, will not be straightforward.

tom.moberly@haymarket.com

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