Flu vaccine progresses

BY TYLER FENSTERMAKER
SCIENCE & TECH CORRESPONDENT

Researchers in the United Kingdom are making progress in developing a universal flu vaccine. The problem in developing a vaccine has been because of the ability of the influenza virus to develop different strains by altering its external appearance.
These various strains are different enough that the antibodies in the immune system cannot differentiate between them. Therefore, every time an individual becomes sick with the flu, it is the first time that individual has been exposed to that particular virus.
Using samples collected during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, scientists are developing their understanding of how the human body defends itself against the influenza virus.
These scientists compared the severity of an individual’s flu symptoms with the quantity of T-cell, a part of the immune system, collected from that individual.
They saw that individuals with a greater number of T-cells had reduced flu symptoms.
This research suggests that a vaccine that stimulates T-cell production may be more effective than one aimed at increasing antibodies. These T-cells work by recognizing an internal part of the virus that is common among multiple strains.
The researchers have identified some of the common internal parts of the flu virus that are common among multiple strains. They are now trying to develop a vaccine that targets activation of T-cells, which would increase immune defense to the influenza virus.
The researchers hope to accomplish this within the next five years.
They predict this long timespan until a final, functional vaccine is because inducing T-cell response via vaccination is more difficult than creating immune memory through antibodies, which is how many other vaccines work.
The research from this study was published on Sept. 22 in “Nature Medicine.”

Contact the writer:
tyler.fenstermaker@scranton.edu

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