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St. Jude develops vaccine against potential pandemic influenza virus H5N1 using reverse genetics

ce of viruses."

Webster is the director of the WHO's U.S. Collaborating Center at St. Jude that studies animal influenza viruses. It is the only WHO laboratory that focuses on the transmission of animal viruses to humans.

Webster's laboratory has sent the seed H5N1 vaccine to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the World Influenza Center in London for further testing, in preparation for initial Phase I and Phase II trials in humans. "It's important to move right along with these trials in case the virus begins spreading from person to person," Webster says. Led by Richard Webby, Ph.D., and Daniel Perez, Ph.D., the St. Jude laboratory team successfully modified a technique called reverse genetics to permit them to develop the H5N1 vaccine so quickly. Using the samples of H5N1 obtained from Hong Kong, Webby mixed two genes from H5N1 with six genes from a second virus (A/PR8/34)[H1N1]). H1N1 is a rapidly growing "master" strain of virus commonly used to make vaccines.

The genes from flu viruses produce proteins called HA and NA, which are on the surface of the virus, in full "view" of the immune system. Webby took the modified gene for HA and the NA from H5N1 and mixed them inside a cell with six genes from H1N1. The HA gene was modified to abolish its ability to cause disease and therefore made it safer to use in the vaccine.

The genes mixed together, and the resulting vaccine virus produced in the cell thus carried HA and NA from H5N1. But because of the alterations to the HA, and the rest of the genes being derived from H1N1, the new virus vaccine cannot cause disease. Rather, it can only stimulate the immune system to respond to H5N1.

"The St. Jude vaccine is like a gun without ammunition," said Elaine Tuomanen, M.D., director of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases. "The vaccine looks deadly enough for its HA and NA proteins to alert the immune system. But in reality, it's carrying blanks that can't cause dis
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Contact: Bonnie Cameron
bonnie.cameron@stjude.org
901-495-4815
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
2-Apr-2003


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