Preventing Any Strain of the Flu

Researchers led by scientists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland have developed a novel treatment that could protect against any strain of the flu. The team hopes that the findings has the potential to guard against current, future, and even pandemic strains of the virus. The study was published in the April 15th 2014 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A release from the university explains that the preventative treatment could be used as a “frontline defense” before an effective flu vaccine is developed. Leading influenza experts say the new development is “very exciting and potentially of great importance in this era”.

The release quotes Lead researchers Professor Garry Taylor and Dr, Helen Connaris as saying, “We have developed an alternative host-targeted approach to prevent influenza by synthesizing novel proteins, or biologics, that are designed to mask specific sugar molecules that line the respiratory tract. The influenza virus, and indeed other respiratory pathogens, needs to bind to these sugars to gain entry to our cells to start the infection process.”

The novel method was tested in mice by collaborators at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh and at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. These studies showed that a single intranasal dose completely protects mice even when given 7 days before a lethal challenge with the pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus. The mice not only survive but also develop antibodies against the virus. This suggests that they are “vaccinated” against any future exposure to the virus.

Influenza remains a constant worldwide health threat with annual epidemics claiming up to 500,000 lives each year according to the World Health Organization. The emergence of new strains from birds in recent years has revealed the remarkable ability of the virus to cross species barriers and to pose pandemic health threats.

While vaccines are the cornerstone of prevention, these are not always effective and take time to develop in quantities needed to treat whole populations. Antivirals are available, but the very recent Cochran report has highlighted the limited effectiveness of Tamiflu.  

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