A Promising Experimental Vaccine Could One Day Be A Universal Flu Shot

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While researchers have not yet cured the common cold, they may be closer than ever to doing just that for the flu. For scientists who have been testing a new type of flu vaccine, they may have found the formula that could one day lead to what would be a universal flu shot, one which would provide long-term protection against contracting the flu virus.

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Ancestral Genes

According to researchers working on this project, the key to a possible universal flu shot lies in what are known as “ancestral” genes. Based on early studies done on animals, ancestral genes showed promise when it came to protecting against many different strains of the flu. On experiments conducted on mice, researchers noted the vaccine protected 100 percent of the mice. By doing so, this meant the vaccine was able to provide protection against nine strains of the flu virus, all of which were potentially lethal. In fact, mice that were given high doses of the experimental vaccine showed absolutely no flu symptoms. However, mice that were given traditional flu shots after being exposed to the same flu strains later got sick and died.

Could This Work for Humans?

While the flu vaccine using ancestral genes worked well in mice, researchers are still not sure if it will have the same potency with humans. However, they do believe that the possibility exists that one day the vaccine could become a universal shot, capable of providing patients with long-term protection. If researchers are successful in their efforts, a person may be able to get only one flu shot in their lifetime, which will protect them against any flu viruses no matter how long they live.

Mutating Viruses

For the many years in which researchers have been trying to come up with effective flu vaccines, the biggest problem they have encountered has been the fact that flu viruses mutate very quickly, making it difficult to create effective vaccines. This is why each year, scientists instead attempt to develop seasonal flu vaccines in an effort to combat the flu strains they expect to be most prevalent during the fall and winter. However, since seasonal flu vaccines contain dead or weakened versions of flu strains, the shots are sometimes not as effective as researchers hope, since the mutating viruses make it difficult to predict what changes may occur once the final vaccine is introduced and in use.

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A New Approach

With more research being conducted, scientists are now attempting to use a new approach in their effort to create a universal flu shot. While some researchers are currently creating vaccines that target hemagglutinin protein stems that change each season, others are focusing on using an adenovirus. This virus, which carries the common cold, is altered by scientists so that it is harmless, allowing it to carry the various ancestral genes of the flu virus. By experimenting with flu strains H1, H2, H3, and H5, scientists have been able to use this vaccine with positive results. When injecting mice with these strains of the virus, all of the animals lived, even though they were given lethal doses.

More Research Is Needed

As with any type of medical research, much more study is needed before one can declare success. But with the early success of this research, additional experiments on animals will be conducted in the coming years. With thousands of people dying each year due to the flu virus, scientists are anxious to come up with a solution that will save countless lives. By creating a universal flu shot, they believe they will be able to do just that.

Learn more about the influenza vaccine.

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