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Scientists close in on a universal flu shot

It’s flu season, which means flu shots are available in doctors’ offices and drug stores around the country. The CDC estimates that between 135 and 139 million doses of vaccine will be produced this year. But scientists are narrowing in on a one-and-done universal flu shot.

In a study published in Nature Medicine this week, lead researcher Ajit Lalvani at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, discovered the “blue print” for such a vaccine.

Influenza evolves so quickly that each year’s flu shot is a guessing game, containing variations of the virus doctors think they may see in the coming year. The vaccine causes the immune system to develop antibodies trained to attack an individual strain of the virus.
But the deadly swine flu pandemic of 2009 proved the seasonal vaccines were ineffective against a new influenza strain.

Lalvani and his colleagues studied 300 students and staff at Imperial College at the start of the pandemic, monitoring them for swine flu. Those who did not become seriously ill had a higher number of CD8 T cells, an immune cell which kills the virus, rather than building antibodies against it, Lalvani theorized.

“The immune system produces these CD8 T cells in response to usual seasonal flu,” Lalvani said. “Unlike antibodies, they target the core of the virus, which doesn’t change, even in new pandemic strains. The 2009 pandemic provided a unique natural experiment to test whether T cells could recognise, and protect us against, new strains that we haven’t encountered before and to which we lack antibodies.”

Read more at The Independent.

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