Influenza is a disease that should not be underestimated. The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that the flu kills some 290,000 to 650,000 people globally per year. The current vaccines are not always effective, since the composition of the virus constantly changes.
Therefore, we badly need new and improved vaccines – vaccines which effectively protect against several virus variants. BPRC-affiliated reseachers have obtained some encouraging results in this respect.
An improved vaccine is on its way
Certain components of the flu virus hardly change. Researchers collaborating with BPRC developed a new and experimental vaccine, based on one of these unchangeable components. You can read more about this vaccine in this article. This vaccine was found to provoke the right immune responses in monkeys and mice, effective against several flu strains.
Comparable to nature
During our lifetime we will encounter many flu variants. This exposure may not only have a significant effect on the way in which our immune system responds to new infections with the flu virus, but may also affect the extent to which a vaccine protects us. In the aforementioned study involving monkeys, monkeys were exposed to the flu virus in a way similar to how they would be exposed in the wild. When these animals were then administered a vaccine, the researchers were able to determine whether their previous exposure to the flu virus was affecting the vaccine. This meant the animals were being used efficiently, as they did not have to be infected with the flu virus again.
The results were encouraging. The vaccine provoked a good immune response to a wide range of flu variants. In addition, the serum of these monkeys turned out to provide mice with protection to several flu variants that are generally lethal to mice. Serum is the part of blood containing the antibodies, which contain proteins that are capable of recognising and neutralising pathogens.
New step in the right direction
Since the flu virus changes all the time, a vaccine may be effective against Variant No 1, but not against Variant No 2. If a vaccine is effective against several variants, this increases the likelihood that it will be effective against whatever flu virus is prevalent (in humans) at any given time. Predictions on what flu virus will hit a community must be made well in advance, but such predictions aren't always correct, as we saw during last winter's flu epidemic. The recent results constitute a new step in the right direction, the final destination being an improved flu vaccine.