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Scientists Get Close to a Universal Flu Vaccine

Update Date: Sep 23, 2013 09:48 AM EDT

With the start of the fall season comes the beginning of flu season. Every year, despite recommendations for people to get vaccinated, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that not enough people are getting vaccinated. Even though the flu might not be deadly for healthy people, it can be significantly more fatal for seniors and young children. During some seasons, the flu could reach a pandemic level. Due to the fact that the flu can lead to thousands of deaths, researchers have been trying to create a universal flu vaccine that would protect against more strains. According to a new study, researchers from the Imperial College London believe that they have created a 'blueprint' for a universal flu vaccine.

Researchers have known that even though influenza is capable of changing at a fast rate, the material on the inside is common across many different strains. Due to the fact that these strains share the same insides, researchers have been trying to create a vaccine that would target the virus' core. For this study, the researchers looked at the flu symptoms in 342 staff and students from the University. The researchers focused on the levels of one particular T-cells measured when the pandemic first started.

The researchers noted that the higher one's levels of T-cells were, the more mild their symptoms became. Based from these T-cells, the researchers were able to single out the specific part of the immune system that was protecting the body from the flu. They observed where that part of the immune system was attacking on the virus.

"It's a blueprint for a vaccine. We know the exact subgroup of the immune system and we've identified the key fragments in the internal core of the virus. These should be included in a vaccine," explained the study's lead investigator, Professor Ajit Lalvani according to BBC News. "In truth, in this case it is about five years. We have the know-how, we know what needs to be in the vaccine and we can just get on and do it."

Typically, other researchers focus on creating a vaccine that triggers the immune system to create antibodies to fight off an invader. Lalvani's team is trying to create a T-cell vaccine that would produce antibodies. This method is difficult because the team will have to make a vaccine that can get a big enough response and offer protection that can last.

The study was published in Nature Medicine.

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