Flu adjuvant adds promise to vaccine

Researchers at Oxford University discovered a compound that gives vaccines a little extra might in the fight against viruses such as the flu, HIV and herpes in mice.

Mice given a dose of the flu shot that included the polymer, polyethyleneimine (PEI), were protected fully against a lethal dose of the flu. Formulas without the adjuvant or with different adjuvants didn't show nearly as positive results. The Oxford scientists, working with U.S. and Swedish researchers, will soon test the PEI adjuvant on ferrets.

"Gaining complete protection against flu from just one immunization is pretty unheard of, even in a study in mice," said professor Quentin Sattentau of the Dunn School of Pathology at Oxford University, who led the work. "This gives us confidence that PEI has the potential to be a potent adjuvant for vaccines against viruses like flu or HIV, though there are many steps ahead if it is ever to be used in humans."

The most popular adjuvant is alum, an aluminum-based compound. But it's not the most potent. However, mice showed a powerful immune response when PEI was included in a vaccine with a protein from HIV, flu or herpes virus. PEI works well as an adjuvant for mucosal vaccines, those absorbed through the nose or mouth. This is good news for those who dread needles.

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