A universal vaccine for flu could be on the cards after molecules which are common to most strains of the virus were uncovered during a research project.
University of Southampton scientists found that the immune systems of volunteers infected with the flu targeted a range of peptides, or protein building blocks, within the internal structure of the virus.
The team, writing in the journal Nature Medicine, now hopes that a universal multi-strain vaccine could be developed if the immune system’s response to the peptides could be harnessed.
Vaccines currently used to treat flu get an antibody response from surface molecules, which change quickly to stay ahead of the immune system.
However, the internal peptides change very slowly and do not vary between strains. They also trigger a response from T-cells - white blood cell elements of the immune system - rather than antibodies.
Study leader Dr Tom Wilkinson, from the University of Southampton, said: “Through this discovery we hope to improve vaccines for future strains of influenza, and potentially protect against the next pandemic. However there is more to do to translate these findings into new approaches to treatment.”
- Wilkinson T, et al. Preexisting influenza-specific CD4+ T cells correlate with disease protection against influenza challenge in humans. Nature Medicine 2012; Advance online publication