A team of British scientists just took a major stride forward in the quest to develop a universal flu vaccine. Using data gathered after the 2009 swine flu outbreak, the team from the Imperial College London have a game plan to develop a vaccine that stands to save as many as half a million lives every year.
The key to the latest flu research can be found in immune cells known as CD8 T cells. Research showed those of the 341 subjects in the swine flu study, those who had more CD8 T cells in their blood experienced less severe symptoms or no symptoms at all. A new vaccine would simply instruct the body to produce more of these types of cells.
"It's a blueprint for a vaccine. We know the exact subgroup of the immune system and we've identified the key fragments in the internal core of the virus," Professor Ajit Lalvani, who led the study, told the BBC. "In truth, in this case it is about five years [away from a vaccine]. We have the know how, we know what needs to be in the vaccine and we can just get on and do it."
So now comes the fun part: Actually developing the vaccine. Those currently working on it say that some vaccines in use are better at increasing the T cell count, but they only work in children. Now the challenge will be to develop a universal vaccine that will work on anybody. [BBC]