NIH scientists target future pandemic strains of H5N1 avian influenza

Preparing vaccines and therapeutics that target a future mutant strain of H5N1 influenza virus sounds like science fiction, but it may be possible, according to a team of scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and a collaborator at Emory University School of Medicine. Success hinges on anticipating and predicting the crucial mutations that would help the virus spread easily from person to person.

Led by Gary Nabel, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIAIDs Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (VRC), the team is reporting in the August 10, 2007 issue of the journal Science that they have developed a strategy to generate vaccines and therapeutic antibodies that could target predicted H5N1 mutants before these viruses evolve naturally. This advance was made possible by creating mutations in the region of the H5N1 hemagglutinin (HA) protein that directs the virus to bird or human cells and eliciting antibodies to it.

What Dr. Nabel and his colleagues have discovered will help to prepare for a future threat, says NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. While nobody knows if and when H5N1 will jump from birds to humans, they have come up with a way to anticipate how that jump might occur and ways to respond to it.

Now we can begin, preemptively, to consider the design of potential new vaccines and therapeutic antibodies to treat people who may someday be infected with future emerging avian influenza virus mutants, says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. This research could possibly help to contain a pandemic early on.

Making a vaccine against an existing strain of H5N1 or any other type of influenza virus is relatively routine. Typically, samples of existing influenza virus strains are isolated and then grown inside eggs or in cell cultures. The virus is then collected, inactivated, purified and added to the other components o

Contact: Jason Socrates Bardi
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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