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Novel flu vaccine shows promise in mice

PHILADELPHIA - Globally, the influenza virus, or flu, is thought to cause between three and five million cases of severe illness and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization. New strains of the virus emerge each year, so that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other public health services must produce and distribute a new vaccine against the new flu strains each year. And each year, people seeking to avoid a flu infection must arrange to receive a flu shot - rarely a pleasant experience - from their doctor or other health-care provider. Also, the effectiveness of the vaccine is known to decline in the elderly, a population for whom flu infections can be particularly dangerous.

A new prototype vaccine developed by researchers at The Wistar Institute, however, might be able to protect recipients not only against this year's strains of the virus, but also against those yet to come, possibly eliminating the need for an annual shot. In fact, because the vaccine would be administered as a nasal spray, it could eliminate the need for a shot of any kind. A report on the new findings appears in the June 2 issue of the journal Vaccine.

"Current vaccines are quite effective, but they are based on regions of the virus that mutate rapidly, so health officials are constantly faced with the problem of updating the vaccines," says Walter Gerhard, M.D., senior author on the Vaccine report and a professor in the immunology program at The Wistar Institute. "A vaccine directed against a more stable region of the virus would offer important public-health advantages, and this is what we are hoping to be able to develop."

Current flu vaccines trigger an immune response to a pair of prominent viral-coat proteins that mutate constantly, which is the reason last year's flu vaccine is ineffective against this year's flu strains. The experimental vaccine contains an engineered peptide that mimics a third, smaller vira
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Contact: Franklin Hoke
hoke@wistar.upenn.edu
215-898-3716
The Wistar Institute
27-May-2003


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