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Researchers working to develop universal flu vaccination

(NBC15)
Published: Oct. 15, 2018 at 3:20 PM EDT
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Some call it the holy grail of immunology.

Researchers in labs across the country are working to develop a one-time flu vaccination that would give people long-term protection from all strains of the flu.

Now, researchers at the University of Central Florida are trying to take the guesswork out of that vaccine development.

The flu virus spreads quickly. At best, you’re achy for several days. At its worst, the flu can kill. Every year, a vaccine offers protection, but fewer than half of all adults get one.

Scientist Kai McKinstry, PhD, wants to make immunization more effective for people.

"It should protect us season after season, irrespective of what kinds of viruses happen to be floating around," says McKinstry, from the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences at UCF.

McKinstry is examining how the immune system responds. Once a person gets sick from a pathogen, the body “remembers” it and is less likely to get sick from it again.

“We want to boost that memory. We want to turn it on, and we also want to make it as effective as possible,” McKinstry explains.

He and fellow immunologists are studying a group of white blood cells called T cells. In animals, T cells have been shown to provide strong protection against the flu.

“The great thing about T cell immunity is it can recognize conserved parts of these viruses across many different strains,” McKinstry explains.

So even though the flu changes each year, one immunization that activates T cells could protect against all strains.

McKinstry says it’s also important to consider the site of infection, and since the lungs are the infection site for flu, a nasal spray would be a good way to provide immunity.

MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGHS

RESEARCH SUMMARY

TOPIC: UNIVERSAL FLU PROTECTION: MEDICINE’S NEXT BIG THING?

REPORT: MB #4483

INFLUENZA: Influenza, better known as the flu, is a contagious illness of the respiratory system that infects the nose, throat and lungs. The best way to prevent the flu is to receive the vaccine or flu shot each year. The reason this is done yearly is because the virus is ever-changing; it can come in different forms. Symptoms can be mild to severe, and the most severe cases can sometimes lead to death. The flu is different from the common cold and comes on much faster. People with the flu often feel most if not all of the following symptoms; fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headaches, runny or stuffy nose, chills, diarrhea and fatigue. It is believed that the flu is spread from person to person via droplets of infection from the mouth or nose of people nearby.

(Source: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm)

VACCINES: Vaccines are safe and effective and are given to millions of healthy people to prevent serious diseases from spreading. A vaccine is given to someone to train his or her immune system to resist a disease, instead of the standard way of becoming resistant, which is catching the actual disease itself. When you naturally acquire the disease, the symptoms and risks of complications come with it, in addition to becoming contagious and risking passing on the disease to other family members and friends who come into contact with you. Vaccines are given once and meant to protect you from catching the disease in the first place.

(Source: https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/vaccine-benefits)

NEW STUDY: Researchers are now working to create a universal flu vaccine that can be given once, instead of one that needs to be given seasonally. In the lab they are studying the immune response to influenza, and what is required to clear the pathogen. The scientists are focused on understanding how immunological memory is formed. Tracking T- cells specific for virus and infection, they isolate these and interrogate the function of the cells. Then they compare different strategies of immunization. The hope is ten years from now physicians would be able to provide a vaccine to the masses that can be given once for a lifetime, instead of having to administer seasonal flu shots each and every year.

(Source: Kai McKinstry, Ph.D)