Scientists seek to improve flu vaccine for the very young

February 11, 2016
Scientists seek to improve flu vaccine for the very young

Scientists at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry have discovered a way to make a nasal spray flu vaccine safer for those who are at greatest risk of catching the flu, particularly infants under the age of 2. The work is early and a long way from being applied in people, but offers promise for a vaccine that could better protect the most vulnerable.

The currently available , FluMist, is one of several types of flu vaccines offered every year, but it is only approved for use in people 2 through 49 years old. Infants, asthmatics, and older adults are not eligible for the vaccine, which is made from live virus that is dampened down so that it doesn't cause the flu. Because the virus is live, it activates multiple components of the immune system and creates a more robust than the traditional shot version of the vaccine, which includes inactivated or killed flu virus.

Working with a vaccine similar to FluMist that is used in mice, Andrew Cox, a graduate student in the laboratory of Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., used molecular genetics to alter the vaccine virus so that it replicates only in the nose and not in the lungs. This is important because the main reason FluMist was not approved for use in children under the age of 2 is that it was associated with wheezing in infants in clinical trials.

A flu vaccine is delivered via a spray into each nostril and moves from the nose through the respiratory tract to the lungs. Cox says that if a vaccine virus enters the lungs it can create inflammation in response to the virus. This presents a problem in very young children with narrow airways that are easily constricted. If the vaccine virus stays only in the nose, it eliminates the potential for wheezing, making it a safer option for infants, as well as individuals with asthma.

"No one has tried to tweak a vaccine virus like this before," said Cox, lead author of the study, which appears today in the Journal of Virology. "If we can make the nasal spray safer for very young children, it should provide better protection and remove a shot, which makes children and parents happy."

"FluMist is very safe in the populations that it is licensed for and creates a good immune response in kids ages 2 to 5, who are very susceptible to flu," added John J. Treanor, M.D., chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at UR Medicine's Strong Memorial Hospital. "It would be a major accomplishment if we were able to develop a live vaccine like FluMist for children ages 6 to 24 months."

Treanor and Cox say that many pediatricians stock the regular flu shot and not FluMist because the shot can be used for all ages. Cox says that in most cases, if a parent wants FluMist, he or she has to ask for it, like he did for his 3 year old son last November.

"Not many doses of FluMist are given out, and that is a missed opportunity," added Cox, who is participating in a rigorous M.D./Ph.D. program at the School of Medicine and Dentistry plans to specialize in pediatric infectious diseases.

In 2013, Cox applied for and won a Technology Development Fund (TDF) award from UR Ventures, a branch of the University that helps transfer ideas and technologies from the Medical Center and the River Campus to the private sector for commercialization. Cox is one of just two graduate students who have received funding since the TDF award program was launched in 2010. Cox used the award to conduct this research and a patent is pending on the new vaccine technology.

"This puts us closer to having a safe and effective that can be used in people at greatest risk," concluded Dewhurst, vice dean for research and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. He and Cox plan to continue this work in partnership with scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Explore further: Developing a better flu vaccine

Related Stories

Developing a better flu vaccine

August 10, 2015
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers say they have developed a method that could make a nasal spray flu vaccine effective for those under two and over 49 - two groups for which the vaccine is not approved.

Heat blamed for spray vaccine's failure against swine flu

February 26, 2015
(AP)—The makers of the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine say now they know why it has failed to protect young U.S. children against swine flu—fragile doses got too warm.

Panel: Flu spray better than shots for young kids

June 25, 2014
When it comes to flu vaccines, a federal panel says a squirt in the nose is better than a shot in the arm for young children.

Vaccine spray may not work for swine flu in kids

November 6, 2014
Health officials say the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine did not protect young children against swine flu last winter and might not work again this year.

Do-it-yourself flu vaccine? Study shows it works

October 8, 2014
A study suggests that do-it-yourself flu vaccine might be possible. Researchers found that military folks who squirted a nasal vaccine up their noses were as well-protected as others who got it from health workers.

FDA approves first 4-in-1 flu vaccine

February 29, 2012
Federal health officials have approved the first vaccine that protects against four strains of the common flu, offering one additional layer of protection against the influenza virus that affects millions each year.

Recommended for you

Zika virus stifles pregnant women's weakened immune system to harm baby, study finds

August 21, 2017
The Zika virus, linked to congenital birth defects and miscarriages, suppresses a pregnant woman's immune system, enabling the virus to spread and increasing the chances an unborn baby will be harmed, a Keck School of Medicine ...

Fatty liver can cause damage to other organs via crosstalk

August 21, 2017
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is increasingly common. Approximately every third adult in industrialized countries has a morbidly fatty liver. This not only increases the risk of chronic liver diseases such as liver cirrhosis ...

Faulty gene linked to obesity in adults

August 18, 2017
Groundbreaking new research linking obesity and metabolic dysfunction to a problem in the energy generators in cells has been published by researchers from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University ...

Two lung diseases killed 3.6 million in 2015: study

August 17, 2017
The two most common chronic lung diseases claimed 3.6 million lives worldwide in 2015, according to a tally published Thursday in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

New test differentiates between Lyme disease, similar illness

August 16, 2017
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States. But it can be confused with similar conditions, including Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness. A team of researchers led by Colorado ...

Addressing superbug resistance with phage therapy

August 16, 2017
International research involving a Monash biologist shows that bacteriophage therapy – a process whereby bacterial viruses attack and destroy specific strains of bacteria - can be used successfully to treat systemic, multidrug ...

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.