Flu vaccines can be something of a shot in the dark. Not only must they be given yearly, there's no guarantee the strains against which they protect will be the ones circulating once the season arrives.
New research by Rockefeller University scientists and their colleagues suggests it may be possible to harness a previously unknown mechanism within the immune system to create more effective and efficient vaccines against this ever-mutating virus.
"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," says senior study author Jeffrey Ravetch, Theresa and Eugene M. Lang Professor and head of the Leonard Wagner Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and Immunology. "We believe these results may represent a preliminary step toward a universal flu vaccine, one that is effective against a broad range of the flu viruses."
In a paper published July 2 in Cell, the team describes a new strategy that revolves around antibodies, immune proteins that target specific foreign proteins, called antigens. One end of the antibody latches on to an antigen, the other end, called the Fc region, binds to immune cells and so helps coordinate the immune response.
It was already known that chemical modifications to antibodies' Fc region altered their interactions with immune cells, including B cells, which produce antibodies. In experiments that began with human volunteers, the team, led by Taia Wang, an instructor in clinical investigation, and Jad Maamary, a postdoc, both in Ravetch's lab, investigated how changes to this region might be used to bolster an immune response: namely the production of more potent antibodies against the flu virus.
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