UW-Madison team develops technique to create flu viruses

ions, which can expose the flu's complex machinery.

"With this technology, we can introduce mutations any way we want," he says. "We can control the virulence by mutating here, there, anywhere. That could help us generate a live vaccine that is also stable."

Kawaoka says current inactivated flu vaccines are good, but can be improved. Live vaccines could be advantageous because they induce both cellular and antibody immune responses. They also produce immunity where it needs to be, such as the nasal cavity and respiratory tract.

There may be even broader applications in gene therapy in areas such as cancer treatment, he says. In fighting cancer, doctors want to introduce genes that effectively kill cancer cells but will not replicate in the body and damage healthy tissue. The influenza virus may be an ideal vector, Kawaoka says, because it does not get integrated into the human genome.

Influenza remains a major public health menace, killing an average of 20,000 people each year and infecting up to 40 million people in the U.S. alone. Influenza-related health costs top $4.6 billion per year. But basic mechanics of the virus, such as what triggers dangerous shifts in flu strains, are poorly understood.

Kawaoka says this technology will be valuable from a basic science perspective. They can use cloned viruses to study influenza viral growth, pathogenesis, and what allows some viruses to transmit across species.

For example, avian flu viruses almost never transfer to humans, but when they do they can be particularly deadly, such as the 1997 Hong Kong virus. "Now we can introduce mutations in the avian influenza virus and understand for the first time what makes these viruses grow in humans," he says.

A dozen researchers worked on the project, including post-doctoral researcher Gabrielle Neumann and graduate student Tokiko Watanabe. The research was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseas

Contact: Yoshihiro Kawaoka
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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