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'Universal' vaccines could finally allow for wide-scale flu prevention
Date:2/27/2012

An emerging class of long-lasting flu vaccines could do more than just save people the trouble of an annual flu shot.

Princeton University-based researchers have found that the "universal" vaccine could for the first time allow for the effective, wide-scale prevention of flu by limiting the influenza virus' ability to spread and mutate. Universal, or cross-protective, vaccines so named for their effectiveness against several flu strains are being developed in various labs worldwide and some are already in clinical trials.

The researchers recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the new vaccines would make a bout with influenza less severe, making it more difficult for the virus to spread. At the same time, the vaccines would target relatively unchanging parts of the virus and hamper the virus' notorious ability to evolve and evade immunity; current flu vaccines target the pathogen's most adaptable components.

A computational model the team developed showed that these factors could achieve unprecedented control of the flu virus both seasonally and during outbreaks of highly contagious new strains. Cross-protective vaccines could even improve the effectiveness of current vaccines, which are designed to only fight specific flu strains, the researchers report.

Controlling the flu, which is now like "chasing a moving target," could advance from the current reaction stage to that of real population-wide prevention, said lead author Nimalan Arinaminpathy, a postdoctoral research associate in Princeton's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

"Because the flu quickly evolves to escape host immunity, current vaccines tend to be prioritized for inoculating specific high-risk groups such as asthma sufferers and the elderly every year," Arinaminpathy said.

"So, at the moment, vaccine programs focus on clinical protection for those receiving the vaccine, but we
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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mgnkelly@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert  

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