Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

One Jab for Flu Vaccine

Researchers are a step closer to creating a universal one-shot influenza vaccine following the discovery that T cells can recognise and attack emerging mutant strains of the virus.

An international research collaboration led by A/Prof Katherine Kedzierska from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and Dr Stephanie Gras from Monash University used cutting-edge technology to capture the response of individual T cells to the various strains.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (http://tinyurl.com/h77ejfe), determined how the T cells reacted to new mutant strains of influenza as well as viruses to which they had previously been exposed.

The team used the Australian Synchrotron to scrutinise the structure of the cells and identify how they recognise the mutant strains. They found that their flexibility and ability to adapt enabled the T cells to “bully” the new strains into submission.

Kedzierska said that finding this piece of the puzzle was a major step forward on the path to creating a one-shot T cell-mediated influenza vaccine that provided life-long immunity against the virus. “Previous research has shown us that T cells provide universal protective immunity to influenza, but we didn’t know why or how until now… This study enabled us to dissect the immune response to understand how this immunity occurs.”

However, further research is necessary before a universal vaccine can be created. “Our past research has shown that only a seventh of the world’s population have the tissue make-up that provides universal immunity to influenza – the difference between a runny nose and being bed-ridden,” Kedzierska said. “Now we know what to look for, our challenge is to find these receptors in those with a different tissue composition and elicit a similar response.”