Scientists add virus-like particles to improve flu vaccine

Scientists at Emory University School of Medicine have combined an influenza vaccine with virus-like particles that contain M2, a viral protein, in an effort to supplement and improve the vaccine against the quickly changing influenza virus.

Researchers believe that the combination of the vaccine with M2, which unlike the rest of the virus, changes relatively little and cannot replicate, might protect mice from a variety of flu strains, including H5N1 avian flu from Vietnam and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic strain. The VLPs with M2 are like shells that look like viruses but can’t duplicate, PhysOrg.com reports.

When a person is given a vaccine, the immune system develops antibodies against certain parts of the virus and attacks proteins on the surface of the virus called hemagglutinin. Because viruses may carry different types of hemagglutinin and another protein, neuraminidase, immunity to one type may not provide protection against the other types, according to PhysOrg.com.

By focusing on the M2 protein, which doesn’t change much from virus to virus, there may be an opportunity to provide a broad range of immunity with one type of vaccine. Previous research has shown that when mice were immunized with the M2 VLPs along with a lab vaccine, mice remained at a healthy weight and had strong immune responses after being infected with the H3N2, 2009 H1N1 and H5N1 strains.

“The results provide evidence that supplementation of seasonal influenza vaccines is a promising approach for overcoming the limitation of strain-specific protection by current vaccines and developing a universal influenza A vaccine,” the scientists said, according to PhysOrg.com.