New vaccine could work against all flu strains

Doctors in the US have developed what they're calling a "universal" flu vaccine.

At present, it's difficult to immunise against the flu because it mutates so fast. Each winter's flu vaccines are developed months in advance, meaning they don't always work by the time the cold rolls around - and they're virtually useless by the following winter.

"This vaccine was able to do something that most other candidate flu vaccines have not been able to do," said Dr Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who co-led the study.

And that's block against several different strains of influenza.

It works by attacking a different part of the virus to current vaccines, one that doesn't evolve as fast, and triggering a much stronger response from the body's immune system. In mice, it lasted 30 weeks and was able to protect them against otherwise lethal doses of three different flu strains.

"If it works in humans even half as well as it does in mice, then the sky's the limit - it could be something that everyone uses in the future to protect themselves from the flu," said co-senior author Dr Scott Hensley, an associate professor of microbiology.

The way the vaccine works means even if a stronger strain of influenza emerged, production on a new version of the vaccine could begin in just weeks. 

But don't go throwing out your Coldral and cough lollies just yet. The next step for the team is testing on primates, and human trials might not start for another couple of years.

The group's findings were published in journal Nature Communications.


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