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A “Universal” Flu Shot – Novel Discoveries Leading to Improved Global Health

Vaccination equipment. Image © Adobe Stock

Dr. Matthew Miller, member of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Diseases Research and researcher at the McMaster Immunology Research Centre is part of an innovative team who have designed what could be a “universal vaccination” against influenza.

Present-day influenza vaccinations are designed to stimulate the production of antibodies that bind to the head domain of the main surface protein (hemagglutinin, HA) on the influenza virus. However, due to influenza’s high mutation rate, new vaccinations must be reformulated and re-administered each year, and only work when researchers correctly predict which viral strains may circulate in the upcoming season. The need for annual re-vaccination and accurate strain prediction greatly contributes to the severe illness of 5 million people every year.

Dr. Miller explained how the limitations of seasonal vaccinations can be overcome based on the novel discovery of a class of antibodies that bind to conserved sites on the stalk – rather than the head – of influenza’s main surface protein. While working with Dr. Peter Palese at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, Dr. Miller and colleagues found a way to challenge the immune system to generate similar stalk-binding antibodies, which can protect against many IAV strains, including future mutated subtypes.

The team’s “universal vaccine” is currently entering human clinical trials, and may be available for public use in as little as 5 to 10 years. Such innovative research could lead to a vast reduction of future influenza epidemics worldwide.