A research team at Melbourne University has discovered how the immune cells that fight against the flu can memorize virus strains and destroy them, which raises hope to develop a new vaccine for lifetime protection against the flu.
"Lymphocyte T CD8+ cells are like hit men of our immune system and they can efficiently eliminate the virus-infected cells, said, Katherine Kedzierska, research team-leader from Melbourne University.
"This is the first time we've shown that those killer T-cells are important in protecting against very serious disease very early on in the infection," said, Kedzierska.
In collaboration with Shanghai Public Health Center and Fudan University in China, the research was based on observations that some patients who contracted the H7N9 bird flu in 2013 were able to recover more quickly than others.
After taking samples, the researchers noted that the patients who managed to recover seemed to have a prior immunity thanks to T-cells, while those who lacked these cells suffered severely or died.
Scientists are now investigating a vaccination that offers lifelong protection against the infectious disease, which affects humans, birds and other animals like pigs.
"We can provide universal immunity that will recognize a vast array of influenza strains and subtypes including new influenza viruses emerging and infecting humans," Kedzierska explained.
Similarly, the scientists considered that the findings, published in weekly magazine Nature Communications, will help early diagnosis and gathering information about how a patient's immune system responds to attacks from a variety of viruses.