By Janie Ingrassia
Influenza kills 260000-650000 people and causes 3-5 million cases of severe illness each year. Influenza’s strength comes from its ability to mutate in order to escape immunity while only producing a small number of individual strains of the virus each year. The best way to protect against influenza is with a vaccination, but its effectiveness varies year-to-year. That was until the research team in Professor Sunetra Gupta’s group at Oxford stepped in. By mapping the historical variations of the virus with mathematical models, they were able to determine which parts of the virus specifically targeted the immune system and enabled to evolution of the virus. Professor Sunetra Gupta explains that they have discovered a “blueprint for a universal influenza vaccine.” In order to determine the accuracy of their discovery, they injected mice with the specific epitope they discovered. They were not only able to protect the mice from the lethal influenza virus from 1934, they were also able to determine that the epitope they discovered was in fact responsible for the cross-reactional nature of the vaccine. The researchers were then able to develop a novel universal vaccine for influenza. This research method was the first time a mathematical model of the evolutionary dynamics of an infectious disease assisted in the discovery of a universal vaccine. The researchers hope that this method can be applied to many other diseases such as HIV and the common cold. This new approach won The MRC Confidence in Concept Award in 2016, The Royal Translational Award in 2017 and The ERC Proof of Concept Grant in 2018.
Source: University of Oxford. (2018, September 21). Pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine offers hope for third generation approach. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180921082943.htm