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Surprising Science

Dual Track Approach Could Create Universal Flu Vaccine

White blood cells called T-cells tend to attack a wider range of invaders than antibodies. If a vaccine sensitizes them to internal flu proteins, they could potentially kill all types of flu.

What’s the Latest Development?

Attempts to create a universal vaccine against spreading flu viruses have been met with mixed results, but it may be possible to combine a new approach with old methods to prepare the body’s immune system against any viral intrusion. “Earlier this year, Sarah Gilbert and colleagues at the University of Oxford equipped the virus used in the smallpox vaccine, which stimulates this cell-mediated immunity, with two proteins common to all flu viruses. They reported that this vaccine prevented symptoms in some people experimentally infected with flu, and those that did get sick had milder symptoms.”

What’s the Big Idea?

A different approach was taken by researchers at the Institute for Animal Health in Compton, UK, who have tested a vaccine containing a live virus in chickens. Just as in people, it did not prevent infection, but the birds’ T-cells responded strongly, and less of the virus was passed on. Combining these two approaches to vaccinations could produce a result more than the sum of its parts. “In chickens, for example, antibodies could knock out the main virus, while T-cells mop up the variants that evade the antibodies and allow the virus to keep spreadingand evolving.”

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