Fighting Flu With Ready-Made Antibodies
When faced with a pandemic, is there a way to sidestep the time-consuming process of influenza vaccine development and delivery? Gene therapy pioneer James Wilson and co-workers have an idea: Squirt genes for the antibodies up people's noses.
Wilson, who works at the University of Pennsylvania, describes in the 29 May issue of Science Translational Medicine how he and his team engineered a harmless adeno-associated virus (AAV) to carry a gene for an unusual antibody that attacks many variants of the influenza virus. When they delivered the AAV into the noses of mice and ferrets, it infected epithelial cells and produced "broadly neutralizing antibodies." The team then exposed the animals to a range of flu viruses—and in most cases, they did not develop disease. "It's an excellent study," says immunologist Antonio Lanzavecchia, whose group at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Bellinzona, Switzerland, isolated the antibody used in the experiment.
Lanzavecchia, who notes that Wilson's work builds on studies done by AIDS researchers, says a critical limitation is that the vector seems capable of producing high levels of antibodies for only a month or two. That means protection against an influenza pandemic could require multiple doses.