Scientists close to universal flu vaccine

Flu season is a dreadful time that often causes mass panic. Hopefully, this won’t be the case for much longer. Researchers are working on a universal flu vaccine that could target all flu strains and prevent another pandemic from ever happening again (like the 2009 swine flu pandemonium).

Currently, there is a new flu vaccine every year to target the changing proteins on the surface of the flu virus. Researchers are now shifting their focus to hone in on the core of the virus, which changes less. A team of UK scientists at the Imperial College London reported on this approach in Nature Medicine. Using a natural experiment of a real flu pandemic, 342 volunteers donated blood and nasal swabs during the 2009 swine flu pandemic. The participants were tracked over time and answered questionnaires on their health and symptoms over the next two flu seasons. If they reported flu-like symptoms again, another nasal swab was sent in.

After analyzing the data, researchers discovered people who fell severely ill produced less CD8 T cells, an immune cell that kills viruses and target the core of the flu virus, compared to those who remained generally healthy. Therefore, the report concluded a vaccine that can prompt the immune system to produce more CD8 T cells would be effective in fighting all flu viruses.

There is still a long way to go in this possible vaccine development, but researchers are hopeful this new “blueprint” will make this hypothetical vaccine closer to a reality.

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