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Survivors of 1918 flu pandemic protected with a lifetime immunity to virus

New research has discovered that infection and natural exposure to the 1918 influenza virus made survivors immune to the disease for the remaining of their lives. Antibodies produced by cells isolated from these survivors served as an effective therapy to protect mice from the highly lethal 1918 infection. The study entitled "Neutralizing antibodies derived from the B cells of 1918 influenza pandemic survivors," was released for advanced online publication by the journal Nature. Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine's Department of Microbiology contributed to the research findings. An estimated 50 million people were killed by the 1918 flu pandemic worldwide.

"Ninety years after survivors encountered the 1918 pandemic influenza virus, we collected antibody-producing B cells from them, and successfully isolated B cells that produce antibodies that block the viral infection," said contributing author Dr. Christopher Basler, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "The antibodies produced by these cells demonstrated remarkable power to block 1918 flu virus infection in mice, proving that, even nine decades after infection with this virus, survivors retain protection from it."

"The fact that you can isolate these anti-1918 memory B cells so long after infection will hopefully provide the impetus to further study the mechanisms behind long lived immunity," said Dr. Osvaldo Martinez, post-doctoral fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

For this study, 32 individuals who were born before 1918 and lived through the influenza pandemic were recruited by Dr. Eric Altschuler at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to donate blood which was tested by Dr. Basler's lab for the presence of antibodies that recognize the 1918 virus. Dr. James Crowe and colleagues at Vanderbilt University produced antibodies from these individuals' blood cells and provided these to Dr. Basler's lab where the potent neutralizing activity against 1918 virus was demonstrated. Antibodies were also provided to Dr. Terrence Tumpey at the CDC to test in mice the strength of the antibodies derived from the 1918 survivors.

"Our findings show that survivors of the pandemic have highly effective, virus neutralizing antibodies to this powerful virus, and humans can sustain circulating B memory cells to viruses for up to 9 decades after exposure," said Dr. Tshidi Tsibane, post-doctoral fellow, Department of Microbiology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "These findings could serve as potential therapy for another 1918-like virus."

Vanderbilt University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Scripps Research Institute collaborated on this research study.

About The Mount Sinai Medical Center The Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The Mount Sinai Hospital is one of the nation's oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. Founded in 1852, Mount Sinai today is a 1,171-bed tertiary-care teaching facility that is internationally acclaimed for excellence in clinical care. Last year, nearly 50,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients, and there were nearly 450,000 outpatient visits to the Medical Center.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine is internationally recognized as a leader in groundbreaking clinical and basic-science research, as well as having an innovative approach to medical education. With a faculty of more than 3,400 in 38 clinical and basic science departments and centers, Mount Sinai ranks among the top 20 medical schools in receipt of National Institute of Health (NIH) grants.

Contact: Mount Sinai Newsroom
The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

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