Scientists are developing a universal flu vaccine. A brand new vaccine against seasonal flu has to be created once a year for both the northern and southern hemispheres. The constant and rapid evolution of the virus means an effective vaccine this year, can be useless by the next.
Scientists in Belgium are determined to beat the virus by producing a vaccine that works long-term, against many types of flu, including pandemic strains.
Professor Saelens and his colleagues have pinpointed a small part of the flu virus that doesn’t adapt and doesn’t mutate. It’s a tiny protein that lies just below the surface, a constant, fixed target for a vaccine.
The team has been able to generate molecules of DNA relating to the protein they are targeting and implant them into these simple bacteria. The bacteria are easy to store safely and can be grown as needed to make the vaccine.
Since the vaccine production process would not have to change each year, in the long run, it would be more straightforward – and cheaper.
Some scientists don’t agree that targeting such a small protein is the way forward. But so far, the results have been positive. But to prove the vaccine’s effectiveness, tests need to be done on a much larger scale and over several flu seasons. This will be expensive.
Despite this, Professor Saelens is convinced this method holds the key to the elusive enduring flu vaccine.
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