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Vaccine to protect birds against avian flu, engineered

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh said that they have genetically engineered an avian flu vaccine. The vaccine contains the components of the deadly strain H5N1.//

This vaccine in animal models offered complete protection to mice and chickens from infection. The vaccine contains a live virus, which is very efficient in producing an immune response than those prepared by traditional methods. It is cultured in cells and very easily produced in large amounts. It prevents the spread of the virus in domestic livestock populations and humans. The findings were published in the Journal of Virology.

Andrea Gambotto, M.D., assistant professor in the departments of surgery and molecular genetics and biochemistry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and lead author of the study said that the vaccine stimulates several lines of immunity against H5N1.

Dr. Gambotto and his colleagues genetically engineering a common cold virus (adenovirus) to express the avian influenza protein (hemagglutinin) (HA) on its surface. This virus then attaches to all the cells that are infected. Bird flu (H5N1) has affected a large number of birds in different areas like Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, Turkey and Romania. Due to this 150 to 200 million birds have been culled to prevent the spread of infection.

The first incidence of bird flu attack in humans was in 1997 at Hong Kong. The virus causes severe respiratory illness resulting in death.

The adenovirus serves as vector or transporting vehicle for delivering the foreign genes or DNA of the HA protein.

Dr. Gambotto's team took two sets of mice in one set they injected the genetically engineered vaccine and in the other an adenovirus vector containing no H5N1 genes, or an empty vector. The mice immunized with the empty vector showed substantial weight loss and all were dead within six to nine days of avian flu exposure.
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