New vaccine method could protect against all types of influenza

September 2, 2015 - 06:25

New method is seen as a crucial step towards a vaccine that protects against all types of influenza.

New study may provide a step towards a universal vaccine for all types of influenza. (Photo: Colourbox)

Every year, new strains of the influenza virus attack our bodies, which means that scientists have to design a new influenza vaccine to combat the resilient virus.

Now, an international research team have developed a completely new way of making flu vaccines that has the potential to protect against all types of influenza.

"It’s a step towards universal protection so you don’t need new vaccines every year," says co-author Nick Stub Laursen, postdoc at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University, Denmark.

The study is published in the journal Science.

Looks promising

The new type of vaccine has so far only been tested on animals, but according to Laursen, the results are encouraging.

He explains that conventional vaccines are directed against molecules that sit on the surface of the influenza virus--so-called haemagglutinin molecules, which are reminiscent of small lollipops with a head and a stem.

"Normally, influenza vaccines are directed against the head of the haemagglutinin molecule. But the problem is that the head is constantly changing and so you need to make new vaccines," says Laursen.

Fix vaccine against the new target

Laursen and colleagues have taken a new approach where they target the influenza vaccine against the stem of the haemagglutinin molecule. Unlike the head, the stem is not constantly changing, says Laursen.

"The vaccine will recognise several different types of the virus because the stem is preserved," says Laursen.

The illustration shows a flu virus, with a row of proteins, the so-called haemagglutinin molecules, on the virus surface. Influenza vaccines are normally directed towards the 'head' of haemagglutinin, but researchers have now developed a method to target the stem. (Illustration: CSIRO)

Professor John Oxford, from the University of London, UK, was not involved in the study, but says the new vaccination method looks promising.

"This is a leap forward compared to anything done recently. They have good animal data, not just in mice but in ferrets and monkeys," says Oxford, talking to the BBC.

Protects against these types of influenza

However, there is some way to go before the new concept can be used for all types of influenza.

Influenza can be broadly divided into two types: A and B, says Laursen.

Influenza A can be subdivided into two more groups--group one and two--and the new vaccine is directed at group one.

"Usually, different versions of the virus within groups one, two, and B circulate throughout the population. So far, we’ve shown that our concept works within group 1. If the same applies to group 2 and B then we can develop universal protection," says Laursen.

A similar study has also been published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine.

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Read the Danish version of this article on Videnskab.dk
 

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Translated by
Catherine Jex