Pitt scientists developing universal flu vaccine

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh are working to develop a universal flu vaccine capable of protecting against multiple strains of the illness.

Pitt's Center for Vaccine Research is collaborating with Sanofi-Pasteur, the vaccine division of pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Aventis, to develop a universal flu vaccine within the next 10 to 15 years, according to

"It's designed to stimulate an antibody response that will recognize all strains of influenza - not just now, but into the future so that we can completely eliminate or severely cut down on the number of cases," Dr. Ted Ross, an associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, said, reports.

The researchers are using a method Ross developed while trying to create a vaccine for avian influenza. Ross and his team used computer modeling software to identify similarities in the avian influenza strains and then developed a single synthetic version of a vaccine to combat them.

Dr. Wilbur Chen, a flu expert and assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, put Ross's method in perspective.

"His technology is easily adaptable to other viruses," Chen said, reports. "He's taken a difficult influenza virus like bird flu rather than a simple one like the seasonal ones and shown protection."

Current seasonal flu vaccines are created using three inactive strains of the virus and can take nearly six months to produce. Ross's method would take as little as four months and eliminate the need for a yearly shot. Ross said he hopes his new vaccine will stay effective for 10 years or more.