H1N1 discovery paves way for universal flu vaccine: research

May 8, 2012

University of British Columbia researchers have found a potential way to develop universal flu vaccines and eliminate the need for seasonal flu vaccinations.

Each year, seasonal influenza causes serious illnesses in three to five million people and 200,000 to 500,000 deaths. The 2009 H1N1 pandemic killed more than 14,000 people worldwide. Meanwhile, public health and bioterrorism concerns are heightened by new mutations of the H5N1 "" virus, published last week by the journal Nature, that could facilitate infection among mammals and humans.

Led by Prof. John Schrader, Canada Research Chair in Immunology and director of UBC's Biomedical Research Centre, the research team found that the 2009 H1N1 "swine flu" vaccine triggers antibodies that protect against many , including the lethal avian H5N1 "bird flu" strain.

Details are published today in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

"The has a protein called hemagglutinin, or HA for short. This protein is like a flower with a head and a stem," says Schrader, a professor in Medicine and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. "The flu virus binds to via the head of the HA, much like a socket and plug.

"Current flu vaccines target the head of the HA to prevent infections, but because the flu virus mutates very quickly, this part of the HA changes rapidly, hence the need for different vaccines every ."

Vaccines contain bits of weak or dead germs that prompt the to produce antibodies that circulate in the blood to kill those specific germs. However, the research team found that the 2009 pandemic H1N1 vaccine induced broadly protective antibodies capable of fighting different variants of the flu virus.

"This is because, rather than attacking the variable head of the HA, the antibodies attacked the stem of the HA, neutralizing the flu virus," says Schrader. "The stem plays such an integral role in penetrating the cell that it cannot change between different variants of the flu virus."

The new discovery could pave the way to developing universal flu vaccines.

Schrader says the characteristics of the human immune system make it difficult for influenza vaccines to induce broadly protective antibodies against the HA stem. "The pandemic H1N1 swine was different, because humans had not been exposed to a similar virus," he adds.

Schrader has evidence that a vaccine based on a mixture of influenza viruses not circulating in humans but in animals should have the same effect and potentially make influenza pandemics and seasonal influenza a thing of the past.

Explore further: Priming with DNA vaccine makes avian flu vaccine work better

Related Stories

Priming with DNA vaccine makes avian flu vaccine work better

October 3, 2011
The immune response to an H5N1 avian influenza vaccine was greatly enhanced in healthy adults if they were first primed with a DNA vaccine expressing a gene for a key H5N1 protein, researchers say. Their report describes ...

Recommended for you

Team finds link between backup immune defense, mutation seen in Crohn's disease

July 27, 2017
Genes that regulate a cellular recycling system called autophagy are commonly mutated in Crohn's disease patients, though the link between biological housekeeping and inflammatory bowel disease remained a mystery. Now, researchers ...

Co-infection with two common gut pathogens worsens malnutrition in mice

July 27, 2017
Two gut pathogens commonly found in malnourished children combine to worsen malnutrition and impair growth in laboratory mice, according to new research published in PLOS Pathogens.

Study sheds light on how body may detect early signs of cancer

July 26, 2017
Fresh insights into how cells detect damage to their DNA - a hallmark of cancer - could help explain how the body keeps disease in check.

How genetically engineered viruses develop into effective vaccines

July 26, 2017
Lentiviral vectors are virus particles that can be used as a vaccine to stimulate the immune system to fight against specific pathogens. The vectors are derived from HIV, rendered non-pathogenic, and then engineered to carry ...

Accounting for human immune diversity increases clinical relevance of fundamental immunological research

July 26, 2017
Mouse models have advanced our understanding of immune function and disease in many ways but they have failed to account for the natural diversity in human immune responses. As a result, insights gained in the lab may be ...

Does your child really have a food allergy?

July 24, 2017
(HealthDay)—Many people misunderstand what food allergies are, and even doctors can be confused about how to best diagnose them, suggests a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.