Discovery offers shortcut to custom flu vaccines

A team of researchers at Emory University and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation has found a way to radically upend the way new vaccines are developed to fight a pandemic. Just days after a person is infected by the virus, their body produces antibody-secreting cells--weeks before the body's primary antibody-making cells appear. The scientists were able to isolate cells from the first burst and found that they attacked that particular strain of flu. And they were able to produce large quantities of human monoclonal antibodies within a few weeks.

The discovery could offer a shortcut to custom-designed vaccines that could swiftly be used to counterattack against a pandemic, a process that now requires months of work. And the researchers are hard at work to determine if the H5N1 virus produces the same early burst of antibodies. There has been an underlying fear that if the bird flu virus mutated into a version that was easily transmitted among humans, available vaccines would be useless in protecting people.

"This method could find broad application towards almost any infectious disease," says Rafi Ahmed, PhD, director of the Emory Vaccine Center and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar.

- see the press release
- read the article in New Scientist

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