Bringing cheer to the sweet-toothed, scientists at Flinders Medical Center in Adelaide announce that a component of the natural sugars in plants could help boost the effect of flu vaccines by up to 100 times.
According to Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, head of the Diabetes and Endocrinology Department, the procedure is harmless and ups the effectiveness of commercial influenza vaccines.
So, how does this work? Petrovsky says the natural sugar helps stimulate the human immune system and has the potential to offer much higher protection against influenza-A and to extend vaccine supplies.
The key ingredient in Petrovsky's flu vaccine booster is a plant sugar known as inulin, a staple of some health food products linked to improved immune performance.
Petrovsky's team created a way to convert inulin into crystal form, which they then used as an adjuvant to increase the potency of existing commercial vaccines.
The enhanced vaccine was tested on a range of animals species. It was found that levels of the influenza virus antibodies were as much as 100 times greater than those produced by the standard vaccination.
According to Petrovsky, the procedure could work equally well with the avian flu vaccine and that would mean, in the event of a pandemic, that everyone would have access to a vaccine, and not just high risk groups.
Petrovsky has definite proof, he says. When he injected himself with the compound, tests showed his immunity to influenza had increased 50-fold.
Flinders Medical Center is planning clinical trials with humans to establish whether greater protection against seasonal variations in the influenza virus would also be enhanced.
Experts say depending on how viable the predominant influenza strains in circulation are, existing vaccines could provide between 50 and 80 per cent protection for healthy adults.
At the same time, medical experts have been cautious in their response to the discovery saying the findings have not received peer reviews, as they have yet to be reported in a scientific journal.