One shot to rule them all

Out of all the vaccines created to protect us, there’s only one we need to get every year: the flu shot. A team of engineers and scientists are working to change that. They envision a day where one shot will protect you for life and recently had a breakthrough which could help improve current vaccines[1].

“Worldwide, half a million people every year die from flu globally,” said Jiwon Lee, a doctoral student who was part of the team. “So it is a big problem that still affects our daily lives and also there’s a huge economic burden from getting sick with flu.” However the number of deaths vary widely each season as different strains of Influenza Virus circle within the population. Even the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not know exactly how many people die from seasonal flu each year[2].
Lee says the team was able to uncover a new class of antibodies to protect the body from several flu strains, successfully working on mice. They were able to make the discovery with the help of new technology, which they say could be the key to better understanding the virus and how to beat it.

“This information can be used to redesign the vaccine and we can test it using our technology to understand if it’s working or not,” said Lee.

The team also studied current vaccines, quadrivalent and trivalent influenza vaccines. Quadrivalent is currently recommended by the CDC to protect against four virus strains and trivalent protects against just three. Researchers say while both are effective, trivalent still produces antibodies to protect a person from the four strains, meaning this may be the most cost-effective option for the public.

According to the CDC, influenza is the eighth leading killer in the United States. Lee hopes their research could better protect millions someday. “Develop a universal vaccine where you receive it as a kid and you’re protected for life against all the known viral strains,” said Lee.

“By engineering or designing the correct or the best fragment of the virus to put in the vaccine, that’s the goal,” said Lee.

[1] Lee et al: Molecular-level analysis of the serum antibody repertoire in young adults before and after seasonal influenza vaccination in Nature Medicine – 2016. See here.
[2] Iuliano et al: Estimates of global seasonal influenza-associated respiratory mortality: a modelling study in Lancet - 2018. See here. [thank you Anna Gryshko for reporting a dead link]

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