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Towards a universal flu vaccine

4 December 2012

Every flu season, we get a new flu vaccine. Why? Because the predominant flu virus that circulates is likely to have ?changed its coat?, and vaccines from previous years won?t give us enough protection. And if a pandemic flu breaks out, there?s a global scramble to develop and distribute vaccines in time.

That?s why a ?universal? flu vaccine that protects against many strains, including potential pandemic flu, is something of a holy grail in research, and a HRB-funded team at Cork has been making strides in the area.

?Instead of targeting the outer surface of the flu virus, which is the part that changes the most, we want to develop a vaccine that targets more hidden parts of the virus, which tend to change less,? explains Dr Anne Moore, a Lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at University College Cork.

Her team has been looking at a ?recombinant? vaccine, which puts small amounts of genetic material from a flu virus into a harmless carrier virus. When this is injected into a host, the vaccine starts making the proteins from the flu virus and the host immune system hopefully starts building up a ?memory? of it.

The Cork study used two such vaccines that were designed to elicit particular immune responses. And it found that the universal vaccines provided some protection against very divergent strains of flu virus in mice.

The study worked out important elements of how the immune system responds to the two vaccines and has established expertise in universal flu virus development at UCC, explains Dr Moore.

Outcomes

  • Worked out response mechanisms to two potential universal flu vaccines.
  • Built a network of virology and vaccine collaborators.
  • Led to an EU-funded study on flu vaccines in large animals using a novel vaccine delivery platform.

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