Scientists Take Huge Step Toward Universal Flu Vaccine

A universal flu vaccine — one that provides immunity against every strain of the influenza virus for multiple years — is the holy grail of flu research. It would be a medical breakthrough on the order of penicillin, with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. And scientists just got one crucial step closer to making it a reality.

Two separate groups of scientists published papers this week demonstrating that a new type of flu vaccine can provide protection against multiple strains of the disease, rather than just one. Though a truly universal flu vaccine that could be given to humans remains years away, infectious disease experts hailed the new findings as a major breakthrough.

“These are very good papers. There are no problems with them,” Dr. Peter Palese, a renowned flu expert at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told The Huffington Post. “What we need to do now is put [these vaccines] in humans and see if they work. That’s the only question at this point.”

One group of researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Nature Medicine, tested the new type of vaccine on mice and ferrets, while the other group, which published its paper in Science, tested it on monkeys. Both teams found that the vaccine increased the test subjects’ immunity against both the H1N1 flu type, often called “swine flu,” and the H5N1 type, or “bird flu.” Until now, all flu vaccines have only been able to protect against one specific strain of flu.

Even if it’s determined that the new vaccine type can work in humans, years of clinical trials will be needed before such vaccines could come to market. But if the research pans out, experts believe that within the decade, we could have a —> Read More