Flu season is coming, but don’t hide under your covers just yet. Scientists are getting closer to developing a universal flu vaccine that may save you from battling the monster of all colds. Until now, flu vaccines were created by scientists taking an educated guess as to which flu strains would be circulating during flu season; they would then create a flu vaccine to combat such strains. However, people still got sick, as the vaccine was unable to protect against all strains. But recently, two teams of researchers revealed that they’re getting closer to figuring out a way to create a vaccine that can protect against multiple strains for a long period of time.
The purpose of vaccines is to create antibodies that protect the body against invading viruses. In the new studies published in the journals Science and Nature, the researchers created a vaccine that used the part of a virus that does not change its shape. Researchers have known that the head of a viral protein called hemagglutinin changes easily, whereas its stem stays mostly the same. Until now scientists have struggled to achieve an immune response with the stem rather than the ever-changing head.
The researchers in the new study were able to create a vaccine that created antibodies from the stem. Lab animals, including mice, ferrets and monkeys, were tested with this new vaccine and were found to be protected against flu strains like H5N1 avian flu and H1N1 (swine flu).
“The [experimental] designs were different, but the end results were very similar and highly complementary,” Ian Wilson, co-author on Science, said. “It’s a promising first step, and it’s very exciting to see this research come to fruition.”
However, it’s important not to get too excited yet; the vaccines are not yet “universal” vaccines, but they certainly are a first step for building better vaccines in the future.