Making a Universal Flu Vaccine a Reality
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The universal influenza vaccine, long a holy grail for medical researchers, is approaching reality. Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai are leading a nationwide, multi-institutional research team that is closing in on a vaccination to protect against all types of influenza virus—for long-term and possibly for life. It will also address flu viruses that spread from animals to humans. This seven-year project is being funded with up to $132 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, as part of a Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers program.
The research focuses on chimeric hemagglutinin, a protein on the surface of influenza viruses. Hemagglutinin shepherds the virus into host cells. The protein consists of a ‘head’ (which varies year to year) and a ‘stalk’ (which is more constant). Since the stalk remains relatively constant, researchers are working to defend against this part of the protein. The project includes vaccine design and growth (designing, optimizing, and selecting vaccine candidates, delivery technologies, and adjuvants) and immunology analysis (test vaccine candidates in preclinical models in immunogenicity and challenge studies). Researchers will also study mechanisms of immune protection against pathogen acquisition, disease, and transmission.