On the one hand some scientists report engineering a super virulent strain of the H5N1 influenza virus, which has the potential to wipe out a significant percentage of the human population. On the other hand another group of researchers from the United Kingdom now report a discovery that may one day help mitigate the deadly effects of all flu strains.
This report, appearing in the March 2012 print issue of the http://www.jleukbio.org">Journal of Leukocyte Biology, describes findings that may help prevent deaths from severe flu outbreaks, especially from seemingly healthy young people. Specifically, the researchers found that immune cells called, "natural killer T cells," may reduce the overwhelming numbers of another type of immune cell, called "inflammatory monocytes," which when present in large numbers, lead to lung injury at the end stage of severe flu infection.
"We hope this study will ultimately benefit individuals—especially the young—who succumb to a severe form of flu infection," said Ling-Pei Ho, M.D., Ph.D., the researcher who led the work from the MRC Human Immunology Unit, Oxford University in Oxford, United Kingdom. "The study highlights a key immune process that occurs in severe flu infection, and provides a platform for a new approach and further research in this area."
"Despite affecting practically everyone, the flu may be one of the most underestimated viruses in terms of its devastating potential," said John Wherry, Ph.D., Deputy Editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. "As the H5N1 research shows, it is quite possible for the virus to mutate or be bioengineered into a form that could wipe most of us out. What most people don't realize is that the severe illness from these flu strains is caused by both the virus and an overaggressive or inappropriate immune response. Research like this, however, offers hope that we'll be able to find more universal ways improve the effectiveness of immunity and combat the severe strains of the flu."