New vaccine may prevent bird flu spread to humans
Washington - 8/15/2007 - Researchers may have developed a vaccine to protect people from an influenza pandemic even before it strikes.
While it has long been said there is no way to vaccinate people against an influenza strain until it evolves, a team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Maryland and the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta said they may have found a shortcut.
The vaccine's focus is to protect people against the mutation that would change the H5N1 avian flu virus from a germ affecting birds to one that impacts people, says NIAID's Dr. Gary Nabel and colleagues.
"If we can define what changes need to be made to make that jump then we can target the immune system to that spot on the virus," Nabel says. "It gives us a chance to develop vaccines or monoclonal antibodies...to really work in a preemptive way to be prepared." Monoclonal antibodies are often used to attack tumors during cancer, but in this case would be applied to go after the flu virus.
"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," says Dr. Elias Zerhouni, National Institutes of Health director.