Georgia State scientists investigate universal flu vaccine

A universal influenza vaccine is the virtual holy grail for flu scientists, and a researcher and his collaborators at Georgia State University's Center for Inflammation, Immunity and Infection moved a step closer to developing the elusive shot.

Associate professor Sang-Moo Kang and his team used recombinant genetic engineering technology that doesn't use a seasonal virus like the typical flu vaccine does. Instead, the researchers took a fragment of the virus--a piece that does not vary among the different strains of flu--and used particles to mimic the flu virus in structure. That way, the immune system can learn to identify any type of flu virus and kill the pathogen, eliminating the cause of illness.

The research, supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and funding from the government of South Korea, could lead to a vaccine that's safer for individuals with weakened immune systems. Live viral flu vaccines, such as FluMist, prove more risky for people whose bodies can't fight back with vigor.

Flu vaccines on the market now change from season to season as different strains of the virus evolve and circulate. Manufacturers alter their formulas to meet those changes, striving to match the strains covered in the vaccine with the strains making the rounds.

"We can now design a vaccine that makes it easier to induce a good immune system response to recognize a pathogen, regardless of how the surface proteins of the virus change," Kang said in a release. "Outbreaks of pandemic can be a dangerous situation, and our current vaccination procedures are not perfect."

Kang and his researchers are not alone in the quest for a flu vaccine that will protect people season after season. BiondVax Pharmaceuticals and MonoSol Rx teamed up to develop an oral delivery system for a universal flu vaccine. And Inovio Pharmaceuticals ($INO) is working on a DNA vaccine platform to combat the illness.

- see the release