Swine flu vaccine could lead to universal flu treatment

By Chelsea Whyte on June 1, 2012 6:11 PM EDT

SWINE FLU
Colorized, negative stain of swine flu virus from April 2009. (Photo: C. S. Goldsmith and A. Balish,)

Could there be a silver lining to the swine flu pandemic of 2009? Researchers at Emory University found that recipients of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine developed antibodies against not only H1N1, but a host of other flu strains.

This discovery is an important step toward developing a 'universal' flu vaccine that can fight many strains of influenza.

"Our new finding is a key step in the development of a vaccine that can produce high levels of antibodies that protect against multiple flu strains, including challenging mutations that have the potential for widespread illness and death," said Rafi Ahmed, director of the Emory Vaccine Center at Emory University and senior author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, according to Futurity.org.

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The study used 24 healthy adults who were given the 2009 H1N1 vaccine. Seven days after the shot, researchers analyzed their blood and found that they produced antibodies that attached to flu strains in an unusual way.

Flu viruses contain a 'head' region which changes between strains and can mutate over time, as well as a 'stalk' region that remains consistent among different strains. Usually, antibodies attack the head of a flu virus, which is why each strain needs a specific vaccine. But in this study, participants produced antibodies that clung to the stalk of the virus, which could be the key to a universal flu vaccine.

Though researchers discovered last year that swine flu vaccinations lead to the production of this type of antibodies, tests to use those antibodies to fight several strains of flu were only done in mice, until now.

"Since discovering last year that people infected with the H1N1 2009 virus produced antibodies against multiple flu strains, our goal has been to test this ability in vaccinated individuals," says Ahmed, according to Futurity.org.

"The study is encouraging, that we're seeing antibodies generated against the conserved portions of the virus," said Dr. Bruce Lee, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. "But it's just an initial step," Lee said, reports MSNBC.

Developing a vaccine that can protect against many types of flu is the next step.

Emory University and the University of Chicago have an industry licensing agreement on the influenza-virus-specific human monoclonal antibodies under which Rafi Ahmed may benefit.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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