Scientists closer to universal flu vaccine after pandemic 'natural experiment'

September 22, 2013, Imperial College London

Scientists have moved closer to developing a universal flu vaccine after using the 2009 pandemic as a natural experiment to study why some people seem to resist severe illness.

Researchers at Imperial College London asked volunteers to donate blood samples just as the was getting underway and report any symptoms they experienced over the next two flu seasons.

They found that those who avoided severe illness had more CD8 T cells, a type of virus-killing immune cell, in their blood at the start of the pandemic.

They believe a vaccine that stimulates the body to produce more of these cells could be effective at preventing , including new strains that cross into humans from birds and pigs, from causing serious disease.

The findings are published in Nature Medicine.

Professor Ajit Lalvani from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, who led the study, said: "New strains of flu are continuously emerging, some of which are deadly, and so the Holy Grail is to create a universal vaccine that would be effective against all strains of flu."

Today's flu vaccines make the immune system produce antibodies that recognise structures on the surface of the virus to prevent infection with the most prevalent circulating strains. But they are usually one step behind as they have to be changed each year as new viruses with different surface structures evolve.

Previously, had suggested that T cells may protect against flu symptoms but until now this idea has not been tested in humans during a pandemic.

Professor Lalvani's team rapidly recruited 342 staff and students at Imperial to take part in their study in autumn 2009. The volunteers donated blood samples and were given nasal swabs. They were sent emails every three weeks asking them to fill in a survey about their health. If they experienced , they took a nasal swab and sent it back to the lab.

They found that those who fell more severely ill with flu had fewer CD8 T cells in their blood, and those who caught flu but had no symptoms or only mild symptoms had more of these cells.

Professor Lalvani said, "The immune system produces these CD8 T cells in response to usual seasonal flu. Unlike antibodies, they target the core of the virus, which doesn't change, even in new pandemic strains. The 2009 pandemic provided a unique to test whether T cells could recognise, and protect us against, new strains that we haven't encountered before and to which we lack antibodies.

"Our findings suggest that by making the body produce more of this specific type of CD8 T cell, you can protect people against symptomatic illness. This provides the blueprint for developing a universal .

"We already know how to stimulate the immune system to make CD8 T cells by vaccination. Now that we know these T cells may protect, we can design a vaccine to prevent people getting symptoms and transmitting infection to others. This could curb seasonal flu annually and protect people against future pandemics."

Explore further: Universal flu vaccine may be a step closer

More information: S Sridhar et al. 'Cellular immune correlates of protection against symptomatic pandemic influenza.' Nature Medicine 2013. dx.doi.org/10.1038/nm.3350

Related Stories

Universal flu vaccine may be a step closer

August 16, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A new study in the US suggests that boosting a certain group of antibodies could help to create a universal vaccine for influenza.

Vaccination may make flu worse if exposed to a second strain

August 30, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A new study in the U.S. has shown that pigs vaccinated against one strain of influenza were worse off if subsequently infected by a related strain of the virus.

Some flu vaccines promise a little more protection

September 2, 2013
It's time to get your flu vaccine, and this fall some brands promise a little extra protection.

Bird flu mutation study offers vaccine clue

April 8, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Scientists have described small genetic changes that enable the H5N1 bird flu virus to replicate more easily in the noses of mammals.

Take kids to get their flu shots early, experts say

September 2, 2013
(HealthDay)—As soon as the updated seasonal flu vaccine becomes available, parents should bring children aged 6 months and older to get vaccinated, according to an updated policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics ...

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.

Recommended for you

Gene plays critical role in noise-induced deafness

October 19, 2018
In experiments using mice, a team of UC San Francisco researchers has discovered a gene that plays an essential role in noise-induced deafness. Remarkably, by administering an experimental chemical—identified in a separate ...

Scientists grow functioning human neural networks in 3-D from stem cells

October 18, 2018
A team of Tufts University-led researchers has developed three-dimensional (3-D) human tissue culture models for the central nervous system that mimic structural and functional features of the brain and demonstrate neural ...

Functional engineered oesophagus could pave way for clinical trials 

October 18, 2018
The world's first functional oesophagus engineered from stem cells has been grown and successfully transplanted into mice, as part of a pioneering new study led by UCL.

New findings cast light on lymphatic system, key player in human health

October 16, 2018
Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have broken new ground in understanding how the lymphatic system works, potentially opening the door for future therapies.

New model suggests cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitoring possible using pulse waves

October 16, 2018
A large team of researchers from several institutions in China and the U.S. has developed a model that suggests it should be possible to create a cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitor based on measuring pulse waves. ...

Age-related increase in estrogen may cause common men's hernia

October 16, 2018
An age-related increase in estrogen may be the culprit behind inguinal hernias, a condition common among elderly men that often requires corrective surgery, according to a Northwestern Medicine study was published Oct. 15 ...

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.