University of Pennsylvania researchers test two-pronged immune cell approach

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently published a study about a two-pronged immune cell approach that could serve as the basis for a universal flu vaccine.

E. John Wherry, an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine, and his colleagues found that by combining two specific types of immune cells, the cells cooperatively elicited robust protective immunity. The researchers determined that combining influenza virus-specific CD8+ T cells and virus-specific non-neutralizing antibodies, the cells worked synergistically to provide better protection than either immune cell type could on its own.

"The two-pronged approach is synergistic, so by enlisting two suboptimal vaccine approaches, we achieved a better effect than each alone in an experimental model," Wherry said. "Now, we are rethinking past approaches and looking for ways to combine T-cell vaccines and antibody vaccines to make a more effective combined vaccine."

The study suggests that immune responses targeting parts of the virus that are not highly variable could be combined to enable effective protection.

"Overall, our studies suggest that an influenza vaccine capable of eliciting both CD8+ T cells and antibodies specific for highly conserved influenza proteins may be able to provide protection in humans, and act as the basis for a potential 'universal' vaccine," Wherry said.

The novel strategy could form a primary component of a universal influenza vaccine able to confer long-lasting protection.

Wherry and his team published the research in PLOS Pathogens. The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases provided grants to support the research.