THURSDAY, 4 AUGUST 2011Seasonal flu kills 8000 of us annually in the United Kingdom, and pandemics can be far more lethal, yet historically we have been unable to vaccinate against spread of the virus. This is because when a new strain arises the virus’s outer coat proteins mutate such that vaccines no longer recognise them.
But now, immunologists at the Swiss Institute for Research in Biomedicine have isolated an antibody which binds all 16 subtypes of type A influenza, which is by far the most common, and severe, flu category.
The 2009 swine flu outbreak was an unpleasant reminder of the threat that the influenza virus poses to public health, but during this pandemic the team observed that some people had antibodies to multiple flu strains. They later succeeded in isolating the universal FI6 antibody, and X-ray crystallography showed that it bound the conserved ‘stem’ of the virus’s haemagglutanin (HA) protein .
Their experiments in mice and ferrets suggest that the antibody could successfully recruit the immune system to destroy all type A subtypes of virus – so this discovery paves the way to development of a universal flu vaccine .
Written by Bethany Jones