Discovery advances quest for a universal flu vaccine

Discovery advances universal flu vaccine potential.
Discovery advances universal flu vaccine potential. | Courtesy of
Scientists from Rockefeller University said they have found a new mechanism in the immune system that could lead to more efficient and accurate universal flu vaccines.

Researchers have been conducting studies to find better methods of vaccination. Current flu vaccines have shortcomings because the vaccines are created far in advance, each season the influenza strains mutate and the vaccines must be administered every year.  

"While the conventional flu vaccine protects only against specific strains, usually three of them, our experiments show that by including modified antibodies within the vaccine it may be possible to elicit broad protection against many strains simultaneously," Rockefeller Theresa and Eugene M. Lang Professor and Head of the Leonard Wagner Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and Immunology Jeffrey Ravetch said. "We believe these results may represent a preliminary step toward a universal flu vaccine, one that is effective against a broad range of the flu viruses."

Ravetch was senior study author of the paper published Thursday in Cell. The team was led by Clinical Investigation Instructor Taia Wang and Postdoctoral Researcher Jad Maamary.  

"When we immunized mice with just the H1 protein from one strain or with the sialylated complexes containing the same viral protein, we found both offered equal protection against the same strain of flu. However, when we exposed them to strains expressing different versions of the H1 protein, only the sialylated immunizations offered protection," Maamary said. "This was no small accomplishment, because H1 viruses can vary significantly from one another."

The research team explored a new strategy to bolster an immune response involving antibodies.

"The new mechanism we have uncovered, by which a vaccine containing sialylated antibodies elicits broadly protective antibodies, could potentially be harnessed to reduce the tremendous morbidity and mortality caused by seasonal influenza virus infections," Wang said. "We are now looking into applying this strategy toward improving existing vaccines; ideally, this would result in a vaccine that provides lifelong immunity against flu infections."

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Rockefeller University

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