Antibody Discovery Could Put Universal Flu Vaccine On The Horizon

on September 17 2012 7:34 PM
Swine flu
Scientists have made a significant leap towards a possible vaccine and cure for influenza in new antibodies that neutralize and block both strains of the seasonal virus, according to The Scripps Research Institute and Crucell Vaccine Institute. Reuters

Scientists have made a significant leap toward a possible vaccine and cure for influenza in new antibodies that neutralize and block both strains of the seasonal virus, according to The Scripps Research Institute and Crucell Vaccine Institute.

The antibodies could be used to develop a vaccine and cure for severe infections, or to help protect hospital staff, according to Scripps, which published its findings in the journal Science. The ultimate result may be a permanent vaccine that does not need to be given anew from season to season.

"To develop a truly universal flu vaccine or therapy, one needs to be able to provide protection against influenza A and influenza B viruses, and with this report we now have broadly neutralizing antibodies against both," said Ian A. Wilson, the Hansen Professor of Structural Biology at Scripps Research and senior investigator for the new study, in a statement.

One of the antibodies successfully protects against both strains of the virus simultaneously, and shows the most promise.

The dual-strain nature of the seasonal flu presents a particularly daunting task. The B-strain of the virus is the less deadly of the two, but also the more common variety. When talks of deadly strains hit headlines and newscasts, such as the pandemic H1N1 virus, it's likely an A strain at work. The antibody found that blocks both is the only kind in the world, according to Wilson.

The researchers collected the antibodies from bone marrow volunteers who took a flu vaccine or were infected with multiple strains of the virus. The resulting global library of billions of antibodies was then tested against a variety of B strains. Three were found to successfully protect mice against B strains, and one presented a firewall against A strains as well -- including H1N1.

To dumb down the complicated science a bit, just imagine the yearly strain of flu that ruins autumns and early winters as a slight modification of essentially the same basic virus. The newly discovered antibodies that block against all strains latch onto the parts that remain unchanged from year to year, which also happen to be the same parts that attack healthy cells.

"Clearly, the holy grail is a universal flu vaccine, and this is another important step toward that," Wilson said

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