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Surprising Science

Finally, a Universal Flu Vaccine?

A Swiss immunologist says that an antibody which recognizes all strains of influenza A could be a universal vaccine blueprint and could overcome the flu’s ability to continually mutate. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Swiss immunologist Antonio Lanzavecchia says that observing the human immune response to influenza convinced him that it would be possible to design a vaccine that prevails over mutation. During the 2009 N1H1 flu pandemic, Lanzavecchia discovered that some people had antibodies that inactivate all influenza A subtypes. After examining over 100,000 white blood cells, he and his team developed a special antibody: “Our FI6 antibody is the first one ever found that reacts to all 16 of the influenza A subtypes,’ says Lanzavecchia.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The new antibody itself is not a vaccine, but it could be an instruction manual for making one. The scientists say that a small protein mimicking the part of the virus bound by the FI6 antibody might cajole the immune system into making similarly cross-reactive antibodies. And while Lanzavecchia admits that developing the FI6 binding site into a new vaccine may take years, he hopes that the antibody itself might be used as a treatment in the meantime. The treatment has so far been successful in treating mice and ferrets.


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