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Scientists use computer algorithms to develop seasonal flu vaccines
Date:7/9/2010

CORAL GABLES, FL (July 9, 2010) Defeating the flu is challenging because the virus responsible for the disease undergoes frequent changes of its genetic code, making it difficult for scientists to manufacture effective vaccines for the seasonal flu in a timely manner. Now, a University of Miami (UM) computer scientist, Dimitris Papamichail, and a team of researchers from Stony Brook University have developed a rapid and effective approach to produce vaccines for new strains of influenza viruses. The researchers hope to develop the new technology and provide an efficient method to confront the threat of seasonal epidemics.

The novel approach uses computer algorithms created by Papamichail and scientists from Stony Brook University to design viruses that serve as live vaccines, which are then synthesized to specification. The new method is called Synthetic Attenuated Virus Engineering (SAVE). The findings are available in a study titled "Live attenuated influenza virus vaccines by computer-aided rational design," now available as an advance online publication by Nature Biotechnology.

"We have been able to produce an entirely novel method to systematically design vaccines using computer algorithms," says Papamichail, assistant professor of Computer Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at UM and co-author of the study. "Our approach is not only useful for influenza; it is also applicable to a wide range of viruses."

One way to make an anti-viral vaccine is to weaken a virus to the point where it cannot cause sickness, and then use the weakened virus as a live vaccine. Although such weakened viruses often make very effective vaccines, they suffer from the possibility that the virus can sometimes mutate to regain virulence.

In this study, the researchers used a novel approach to weaken the influenza virus: they made a synthetic genome of the virus containing hundreds of changes to its genetic code. The computer algor
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Contact: Marie Guma-Diaz
m.gumadiaz@umiami.edu
305-284-1601
University of Miami
Source:Eurekalert

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