In DepthBiomedicine

Llama antibodies inspire gene spray to prevent all flus

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Science  02 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6414, pp. 511
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6414.511

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Summary

Influenza virus changes so rapidly that researchers have to tailormake vaccines each year to match the circulating strains—and pandemic viruses that humans have little immunity to and that vaccines don't touch periodically get a foothold. Try as they might to develop a "universal" flu vaccine that protects humans against all strains, no one has found the right ingredients to create this "holy grail" product. Given the challenges, a new study suggests an entirely different approach: a nasal spray that contains a harmless adeno-associated virus engineered to hold a gene that creates an antibody capable of stopping all strains known to infect humans. Researchers concocted this powerful antibody with the help of llamas, which have an unusual immune system. When injected with flu vaccines or pieces of the flu virus, llamas make skinnier antibodies than the ones made by humans. Basically, human antibodies are Y-shaped proteins that have "light" chains of peptides on each arm. Llama antibodies, lacking the light chains, have an easier time reaching into otherwise inaccessible crevices commonly found on many flu viruses. Researchers further trimmed four of these antibodies harvested from llamas to create the gene for this nasal spray, which protected mice from "challenges" with a wide variety of flu strains. Much work still needs to be done before human studies begin with this novel strategy.