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Universal Flu Vaccine May Soon Be a Reality, Say Scientists
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Universal Flu Vaccine May Soon Be a Reality, Say Scientists

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Highlights
  • Flu is a seasonal, contagious respiratory viral illness caused by Influenza viruses, and may be occasionally severe.
  • According to WHO estimates, the flu is believed to cause between 250,000 to 500,000 deaths every year worldwide.
  • Presently, the best protection from flu is the administration of Influenza vaccine every year.
  • A new study brings scientists closer to a universal flu vaccine that needs to be given only once, and could prevent future infections as well as flu pandemics.



A new study may usher in the development of a universal flu vaccine that needs to be administered just once, and might be more effective in preventing occurrence of all flu pandemics in the future.

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Universal Flu Vaccine May Soon Be a Reality, Say Scientists

Outline of The Study

In a study conducted by researchers at McMaster and two other American universities, they may be a step closer to the creation of a much more effective, "one-punch" universal flu vaccine.
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This study follows the earlier discovery, of a class of antibodies that are able to train the immune system to recognize a region on the viral surface that does not change (mutate) every year. Until now, the limitations to developing a universal 'one-punch' flu vaccine is that the viral antigens undergo mutation every year, and a vaccine that might have been effective previously might not be effective the following year.

The recently discovered neutralizing antibodies are capable of protecting against the most virulent (dangerous) influenza virus strains. Additionally, they are capable of protecting against all future flu strains, including mutated strains. This could essentially pave the way for the creation of a single shot universal flu vaccine.

Comparing How Seasonal Versus Universal Vaccines Work

Seasonal flu vaccines act by producing antibodies that are capable of binding to the virus and preventing it from infecting other cells. Universal flu vaccines too function in a similar manner, but additionally go one step more by mobilizing white blood cells capable of destroying infected cells, says Matthew Miller, the senior author of the study.

Miller and his team have found that certain antibodies work to mobilize these helpful white blood cells, while other antibodies may actually prevent their recruitment. This important difference is influenced by where the antibodies attach on the surface of the virus.

Scope of the Study Findings

Dr Miller said, "Our findings show that just having antibodies isn't enough. You have to have antibodies that bind to very specific places on the virus,". "Now that we know the places where antibodies have to bind, we can modify our vaccines so that we generate those antibodies in higher numbers."

Dr Miller further adds, "Using this knowledge, what we can now do is specifically design our universal vaccine to generate the most desirable types of antibodies and avoid antibodies that block the functions that we want,". This would ensure that the new universal flu vaccine will work in the most optimal manner possible.

Antibodies capable of mobilizing white blood cells are currently being analyzed as possible treatments for cancer and HIV. The findings by Miller and colleagues might help improvement of therapy for those diseases too.

About Influenza

Influenza (flu) is an infectious disease affecting the respiratory tract. It is caused by influenza viruses. Illness may vary from mild to severe. Severe infection may necessitate hospitalization, and may occasionally result in death.

Older persons, young children, and people with underlying chronic diseases such as heart failure, and diabetes, are at increased risk for severe complications from flu.

WHO estimates that flu causes 250,000 to 500,000 deaths globally every year.

Presently, the best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. The efficacy of the annual flu vaccine depends on the age and health of the person who receives the shot, the degree of likeness between the viral strains in the seasonal vaccine and circulating influenza viruses.

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine depends on whether a live or inactivated vaccine was used, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr Miller hopes that a universal flu vaccine might be a reality within the next five years. It would mean the effective prevention of infection and protection against all flu strains, and preventing flu pandemics.

Reference
  1. Seasonal Influenza - Flu Basics - (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/index.htm)
Source: Medindia

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