Despite the fact that we already have effective vaccines against the flu, researchers have been looking for a way to make them universal, whereby physicians would be able to administer the same exact shot regardless of which strain or sub-type of the virus is circulating at any given time or place.
Now, writing in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, a group of researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at the Mount Sinai in New York City, NY, in collaboration with colleagues from other institutions, have introduced a new way of thinking about viruses which could have tremendous implications for the treatment of dangerous infections.
“This is the first proof-of-principle study to show that high anti-stalk titres can be induced by a rationally designed vaccine in humans and opens up avenues for further development of universal influenza virus vaccines,” wrote the researchers.
The new approach is centred around hemagglutin – a protein found on the surface of flu viruses whose function is to direct it towards host cells for infection – which consists of a “head” and a “stalk”. The former tend to differ from strain to strain, while the latter are much less variable.
In a phase I clinical trial involving 65 healthy adults, the research group administered the subjects with different vaccination regimens based on a protein variant called “chimeric hemagglutin” (cHA) to see if either of them would induce the production of antibodies protective against different viruses.
Luckily, one of the proto-vaccines found purchase and “induced a broad antibody response, which was not only cross-reactive for currently circulating human influenza virus, but also to avian and bat influenza virus subtypes”, said one of the lead researchers Professor Florian Krammer.
According to the group, the cHA-based intervention induced a very strong anti-stalk response, which suggests that the vaccine might be powerful enough to protect humans against not only known strains and sub-types of the flu virus, but even those yet to arise.
“The results indicate that we are moving toward a universal influenza virus vaccine, but these are still interim results. Additional results will be available upon completion of the study at the end of 2019,” Krammer said.
Sources: study, medicalnewstoday.com
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