Every year, the flu vaccine must be redesigned to take into account new mutations. Researchers from MIT and the Ragon Institute of MIT, Mass. General and Harvard hope for a better way.
The problem is that while the vaccine triggers the production of antibodies against the influenza virus, these antibodies tend to target a segment of viral protein that is particularly prone to mutation. If the antibodies could bind to the stable protein’s “stem” instead of its variable “head”, they could protect against any strain of influenza, and people wouldn’t need to be vaccinated year after year.
The researchers, led by Arup K. Chakraborty of MIT and Daniel Lingwood of Ragon Institute, used computer modeling to explore why the immune system focuses on the head of the protein and whether it can be “trained” to target the stem in place. The result of their work is a vaccine made up of nanoparticles coated with influenza proteins that do just that. In studies of mice with humanized immune systems, researchers have shown that their vaccine elicits an antibody response against the protein stem, increasing the possibilities that could finally end the arms race between vaccine makers and the ever-growing virus. evolution.
“The reason we’re so excited about this work,” says Chakraborty, “is that it’s a small step towards developing a flu shot that you only take once or more times, and resulting antibody response is likely to protect against influenza and pandemic strains too. ”