University of Texas Southwestern's scientists have created a new flu vaccine that can protect us against any kind of flu, not just one strain. Unlike the current type of vaccines, it can even protect us if the virus mutates.
That's the big problem of facing current vaccines: every year, medical experts guess what's going to be the dominant flu strain and create a vaccine using a weakened version of that virus. If said virus mutates, the vaccines becomes useless, which is why people get the flu even when they get vaccinated.
The team led by Dr. Beatrice Fontoura took a completely different approach:
"What we are doing is something different. We are actually stimulating our own response, which is already there – boost it – to fight an infection."
Their solution boosts our natural immunological system, targeting a protein in our bodies called REDD-1. Fontoura's team discovered that when REDD-1 levels are low in a cell, the influenza virus can easily infect the cell. The vaccine increases the protein's levels, creating a shield that is impossible for the virus to penetrate.
According to the team, the new vaccine is so effective it can even protect us against the Spanish Flu, the H1N1 influenza virus that killed between 50 and 100 million in 1918, mostly healthy young adults. Another deadly H1N1 strain was Swine Flu, which may have infected between 11 and 21 per cent of the world's population in 2009.
Sadly, the vaccine is not ready for mass distribution just yet. They have to complete the usual FDA/MHRA procedures before being allowed to be introduced into the market, a process that may take years. [CBS]