In DepthBiomedicine

Universal flu vaccine is ‘an alchemist's dream’

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Science  07 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6419, pp. 1094
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6419.1094

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The ever-mutating influenza virus means the vaccine must constantly be changed. What's more, the so-called seasonal vaccine isn't particularly effective, with only 20% to 60% of people who receive it dodging illness because their immune systems have been properly trained. At an unusual meeting last month in Nashville, leading flu researchers met to discuss the obstacles to making a "universal" flu vaccine that works against the majority of strains that infect humans and lasts for years, if not a lifetime. One problem is that the seasonal vaccines aim to trigger antibodies against the top part, or head, of the hemagglutinin protein—one of two proteins that stud the surface of the virus. But that portion mutates frequently, and studies have shown that antibodies against the other surface protein, neuraminidase, better correlate with protection. Many experimental vaccines have attempted to exploit the fact that the bottom part of the hemagglutinin protein does not change much from strain to strain, but those preparations haven't proved potent enough. There's also a problem called imprinting, in which the first flu virus or vaccine a child receives can influence how they respond to all other flu infections for life. The meeting goers discussed many novel approaches to move the field forward.