One flu vaccine to rule them all
Scientists who were looking for a way to annihilate the Avian flu have stumbled upon a protein that halts both the Avian and seasonal flu.
The following is not a full transcript; for full story, listen to audio.
Winter, spring, summer, fall. It seems like no matter the season, it’s always time to get the newest version of the flu shot. Well, times may be achangin'. Scientists who were looking for a way to annihilate the Avian flu have stumbled upon a protein that halts both the Avian and seasonal flu. Are the consequent rumors of a universal flu vaccine justified?
Dr. Wayne Marasco is associate professor in the Department of Cancer, Immunology and AIDS at Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School. He's also one of the lead authors on the research article that appeared online recently. It's on a discovery which may possibly radically change the strategy and tactics that medical professionals and immunologists use to fight the flu.
On "The Takeaway," Dr. Marasco talks about the discovery of an antibody in humans that serves as a generic adapter that fights all kinds of flu at once:
"The antibody ... was isolated from a library of 27 billion human antibodies that we created about a decade ago. And the remarkable thing about this finding is that we started out by trying to identify antibodies against the Bird Flu, but wound up finding a new pocket in the influenza coat protein that is common to all influenza viruses. And when we did deeper research into the ability of these antibodies to block virus infection, we found out not only did they block the four circulating strains of Bird Flu, but also a divergent group of influenza viruses, including the 1918 pandemic flu.
"The interesting thing about this is that the virus has very cleverly developed a decoy. So if you think of the coat protein looking like a lollipop, your immune system is really directed to that big globular head, which acts as a decoy. And that is the part of the molecule that can undergo genetic changes every year. So when we get vaccinated, we raise antibodies against this big globular head, which can constantly change and which is different among the different circulating influenza viruses. However the stem, or the stick of the lollipop, is very highly conserved and this is where the machinery is that allows the virus to enter the cell. So the antibodies are directed to that sweet spot if you will -- the Achilles Heel -- where all that machinery is located, and thus we are able to get broad neutralization and broad protection against a wide-range of influenza viruses."
Dr. Marasco says clinical trails will start in 2011. You can read an abstract of the article -- Structural and functional bases for broad-spectrum neutralization of avian and human influenza A viruses -- here.
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