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How can we protect patients with weakened immune systems from influenza?

iseases, those in which an abnormal immune system turns on itself: systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjogren's syndrome.

Core research facilities will assist all the projects in systematically measuring T cell and B cell counts and developing specialized assays. The researchers will begin enrolling patients this fall under the five-year program.

"A major reason to study influenza is the quick-changing nature of the influenza virus," said Dr. Sullivan. The virus mutates its outer coating from year to year, a process called viral drift, which is why new flu vaccines are developed each year. The potential threat of avian flu is that mutations in the avian virus could allow it to easily pass from person to person. An epidemic with a completely new type of virus such as this represents viral shift, and is usually far deadlier because there is no pre-existing immunity in the population.

Furthermore, although it has never been known to have been developed as a bioterror weapon, the influenza virus may be relatively easy to manipulate for such purposes in a laboratory ?which is why the federal government is funding medical research to improve defenses against flu.

Dr. Sullivan looks to broader and longer-term benefits of her funded program. "Even if the worst-case scenarios of flu pandemic or weaponized flu attack do not occur in the next few years, we will have greater understanding of how to protect vulnerable patients."


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Source:Children's Hospital of Philadelphia


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