Researchers are working to determine if a vaccine that targets the stalk of a protein that covers the flu virus will help harness a universal shot.
Weaver said the study is the first to report on whether a universal flu shot could be created by using a combination of multiple genes shared at the ancestral level by flu strains circulating today.
"Even influenza vaccine manufacturers are recognizing that, over time, the egg-based production process will become obsolete and will be replaced with a more modern production process", she said. However, government health officials have been concerned with the degree of the ineffectiveness of flu vaccines manufactured every year for the following year's flu season.
Flu season generally begins in the late fall and runs through the winter months. The conventional influenza vaccine platform uses weakened or dead versions of the influenza virus to stimulate immunity against hemagglutinin (HA), a spike-shaped protein that extends from the surface of the virus and attacks cells. The 2016-2017 vaccine was only 43 percent effective against the predominant influenza A H3N2 strain, and protection has been nearly as low in other years.
But he stressed that people should still get the recommended flu vaccine because "some protection against H3N2 viruses is better than nothing, and other components ... will likely provide excellent protection this year". Most flu vaccine proteins are purified from a virus grown in chicken eggs, although a small fraction of flu vaccine proteins are produced in systems that do not involve eggs.
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After vaccinating the mice, the researchers infected them with nine strains of the flu - including strains of H1N1, H3N1, H3N2 and H5N1- at a dose that typically kills mice.
The egg method allows for large-scale manufacturing but is unreliable. The molecule is a type of sugar, hence the reason it's being called a glycosylation site. The vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that can not transmit infection.
Flu vaccines aim to protect us by priming our immune systems.
"Our experiments suggest that influenza virus antigens grown in systems other than eggs are more likely to elicit protective antibody responses against H3N2 viruses that are now circulating", Hensley said.