Ivan Misiura | United States
Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is not like most other diseases we get vaccinated for today. It is not uncommon for one to receive the flu shot and still contract the dreaded virus. This is due to its ability to quickly – and unpredictably – mutate and overcome various vaccines.
As of now, scientists choose the flu shot you receive largely by educated guess; whatever strain hit last year. The variation and adaptation of the virus have made it notorious for its difficulty to fight.
A universal vaccine that would cover all strains of the virus would be incredibly valuable for both researchers and the global population. The development of a universal vaccine would mean that those with excellent immune systems would not need to get a shot more than once a decade for protection.
Universal Flu Shot Research
In light of the complications, researchers have adopted a strategy of pattern recognition to find vulnerable focus points.
“We have identified the parts of the virus that are shared across all flu strains, and sub-strains capable of infecting humans. [We] then investigated if we could find robust responses to those viral parts in healthy humans, and influenza-infected adults and children”. claims PhD student Marios Koutsakos in an SBS News article.
These focus points are particularly vulnerable to “killer T-cells”. According to Professor Kedzierska, the team was able to narrow down 3 viral sequences out of 67,000 that the killer T can recognize.
Unfortunately, only about half of the population has the powerhouse Killer T-cells in their immune system. Professor Kedzierska addresses this issue: “Now what we are working on is using similar cutting-edge technology is to find similar killer T-cells for the rest of the global population so we can protect everyone”.
What Are Killer T-Cells?
This esoteric boon rarely receives mention outside of biology textbooks and academic papers. However, it plays a major role in our healthy lives. A T-cell Modulation Group breaks down its general function: “As a major part of the adaptive immune system, T-cells scan the intracellular environment in order to target and destroy infected cells”.
These cells act as an elite white blood cell. They attack various pathogens but do not share the same one-size-fits-all attributes of their defending counterparts. Instead, each killer T-cell can only attack one type of sickly intruder. Killer T-cells are responsible for attacking everything from the common cold to aggressive cancer.
The Key to an Influenza Cure
As reported to Medical News Today, the consensus among the team is that “Our study introduces a new paradigm whereby [killer] T cells confer unprecedented cross-reactivity across all influenza viruses, a key finding for the design of universal vaccines.”
Having patented their research, this Australian based team of scientists fully anticipate taking their findings to the next step. They hope to emerge with the elusive “holy grail”: a universal flu shot.
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