Study shows new progress being made for universal flu vaccine

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How to Navigate Flu Season in Light of the Coronavirus Pandemic.With the ongoing COVID-19pandemic, experts have said it is crucial to get a flu vaccine this season.Here are some tips for how to go about protecting yourself this flu season.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages anyone six months and older to get a vaccine every year.The CDC also recommends getting your flu shot no later than the end of October, as it takes some time to become fully protective.For those skeptical of the flu vaccine, the CDC shares that while there are some slight side effects, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received the vaccine.Experts also add that there is currentlyno data to support whether the flu vaccine may protect individuals from COVID-19

Those hoping to avoid getting sick this winter may have gotten their annual flu shot. But a new study shows that there’s progress being made toward a universal flu vaccine.

A universal flu vaccine is one that “could one day eliminate the need for annual vaccination by generating long-lasting antibodies to protect against many existing or emergent influenza virus strains,” according to the National Institutes of Health. This includes ones that aren’t represented in the vaccine.

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Scientists at Scripps Research, The University of Chicago and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have discovered a new weakness of the influenza virus. This has pushed progress forward toward a universal flu vaccine.

Even as the virus mutates each year, antibodies against a long-ignored section of the virus have the potential to recognize a broad variety of flu strains

Researchers reported the development in the journal, Nature, last week.

Results showed that a small subset of antibodies drawn out by experimental and existing influenza vaccines focus on a site in a part of the flu virus. This is at the base of the influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA) protein. In a press release from The University of Chicago’s Biological Sciences Division, it’s described as “an ‘epitope’ whose significance was not recognized in prior influenza antibody studies.”

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“It’s always very exciting to discover a new site of vulnerability on a virus because it paves the way for rational vaccine design,” co-lead author Andrew Ward, Ph.D. said in a press release.

Ward is a professor of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at Scripps Research.

“It also demonstrates that despite all the years and effort of influenza vaccine research there are still new things to discover.”

“By identifying sites of vulnerability to antibodies that are shared by large numbers of variant influenza strains we can design vaccines that are less affected by viral mutations,” said co-lead author Dr. Patrick Wilson, formerly of The University of Chicago and recently recruited to Weill Cornell Medicine.

“The anchor antibodies we describe bind to such a site. The antibodies themselves can also be developed as drugs with broad therapeutic applications.”

A team of scientists distinguished 358 different antibodies in the blood of people in three groups. They were those who had seasonal influenza vaccine, in a phase I trial for an experimental, universal influenza vaccine or were naturally infected with influenza.

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Scientists discovered antibodies recognized a variety of H1 influenza viruses. Those viruses account for many seasonal flu strains. Some antibodies could also recognize pandemic H2 and H5 strains of influenza in lab tests. In mice, antibodies successfully protected against infection by three different H1 influenza viruses.

“In order to increase our protection to these highly mutating viruses, we need to have as many tools as we can,” Han said. “This discovery adds one more highly potent target to our repertoire.”

Those antibodies seem to be relatively common in people. They’re part of a class of antibodies that can be produced by anyone’s body. This is an important consideration when designing a vaccine to generate antibody development.

“The human immune system already has the ability to make antibodies to this epitope, so it’s just a matter of applying modern protein engineering methods to make a vaccine that can induce those antibodies in sufficient numbers,” Guthmiller said.

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