Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lifelong Flu Vaccine?

How many of us LOVE getting shots? Let's be honest, lifelong vaccines would be amazing, especially against viruses that we are vaccinated against on an annual basis, like influenza.

Hope may be on the horizon for those of us who dread our annual flu shots. Dr. Sophie Valkenburg is currently looking into methods of extending the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. Current flu vaccinations induce an antibody response to influenza surface proteins. The problem with this approach is that due to genetic shift, the virus mutates at an incredible rate each year. The mutations often change which proteins are present on the outer surface of the virus. This renders the antibodies that the body produces less and less effective as the virus continues to mutate.

So how do we get around this problem? Apparently, the internal proteins of the influenza virus are relatively conserved. The vaccine that Dr. Valkenburg is working on targets both antibody activation and T cell activation. This differs from a sole antibody response because while antibodies typically only recognize surface proteins, the T cells are able to target the internal proteins of the virus. Because these internal proteins don't change much over time, the T cell response should be more effective for a longer period of time.

An added benefit of this potential new vaccine is that not only does it target the influenza strains that cause the yearly outbreaks of flu we are familiar with, but it also can target the newer outbreak strains that cause diseases such as avian and swine flu. These outbreak strains are more deadly because we do not have the natural immunity against them that we often have against the seasonal flu strains.

An interesting point to think about that Dr. Siegel brought up earlier in the course when we were discussing vaccinations was the fact that most of the vaccines we are given that theoretically give us lifelong protection actually may not provide protection for as long as we think they do. Do you think lifelong vaccinations exist?


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