Making a universal flu shot that is effective for a lifetime

This is the holy grail for flu-vaccine research: a single vaccine to provides immunity for life.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

As it turns out, people who were infected with the 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu - and survived -  might have antibodies that might help researchers develop flu shots that last a lifetime.

Currently, there's a new flu shot every year. That's just how it is.

Unlike other infectious diseases, flu strains change every year, making it a little more difficult to make influenza vaccines last any longer than a year. Those of us who get the yearly flu jab, do so to get a dose of new antibodies that we need to fight off the ever-changing invaders.

The current flu shot usually has three inactivated viral strains, which are grown in chicken eggs. One of the strains is usually a H1N1 strain. Unfortunately, this method is not completely effective because it doesn't mean that a jab will protect the vaccinated person against all strains. So you can still get sick, even if you got a flu shot.

Time reports that creating a more universal vaccine would prevent up to 49,000 yearly deaths in the U.S. per year.

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine and the University of Chicago found that patients infected with the 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu strain had antibodies that protected against other flu strains.

Nine patients, who were in their 20s and 30s, participated in the study at Emory's Hope Clinic.

The researchers took blood samples 10 days after the patients exhibited flu-like symptoms and looked for the white blood cells that made antibodies against the flu virus. The antibody genes were isolated from the individual cells. The genes were used to produce 86 different types of antibodies.

Five of the antibodies could react to the seasonal H1N1, as well as the avian flu and the deadly Spanish flu strain from 1918, the researchers reported.

The researchers found a part of the virus that doesn't really change, and they hope this region can be used to make vaccines that have a longer life. This part of the virus is known as the stalk region.

It's not time to bid farewell to the annual flu shot just yet. The researchers need to mimic what they are seeing in the lab in vaccines before it's possible to create a more universal flu vaccine.

The scientists are especially curious about people, who were infected with the 2009 H1N1 strain, but never got sick.

It seems there's a vaccine for everything these days - even cocaine. Not yet, but maybe someday.

Photo: CDC

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