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New discovery could lead to universal flu vaccine
July 21, 2015, 2:03 pm

Findings from a new study are taking researchers one step closer to finding a flu vaccine that could prove effective against all virus strains. The study, published in the science magazine Cell, found that chemical modifications to a specific region in antibodies could be used to improve current flu vaccines.

Every year, vaccines in the US are typically formulated to target H1 and H3 influenza A viruses along with influenza B strains predicted by experts to be prevalent during the next flu season. If the experts' predictions are inaccurate, however, then the vaccines are rendered ineffective. Influenza can be a dangerous illness - particularly in adults over the age of 65 and people with other health conditions.

Influenza viruses are difficult to target with vaccines due to the wide variety of strains that exist, with new strains emerging regularly. Because of how elusive the virus can be, a universal vaccine represents a dream goal for scientists and has been the focus of many research projects.

"While the conventional flu vaccine protects only against specific strains, usually three of them, our experiments show that by including modified antibodies within the vaccine it may be possible to elicit broad protection against many strains simultaneously," explains Jeffrey Ravetch, senior author of the study conducted at the Rockefeller University in New York.

Experts believe that the new process could reduce the rates of morbidity and mortality attributable to seasonal influenza virus infections. "We are now looking into applying this strategy toward improving existing vaccines; ideally, this would result in a vaccine that provides lifelong immunity against flu infections," said Mr. Ravetch.

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