Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are working on a universal flu vaccine that has the potential to protect everyone against all strains of the flu, anywhere in the world.
Vanderbilt is the hub and coordinating center for this groundbreaking research being conducted around the world.
Current flu vaccines can reduce the risk of some influenza by about 60 percent. This research would make it near 100 percent for all strains of influenza.
The flu is one tricky virus. Trying to find an effective vaccine that works for all people and all strains has been elusive. Dr. James Crowe is the lead researcher, coordinating a worldwide effort to develop a universal flu vaccine.
"So the winter season in the Northern Hemisphere is opposite of the southern. The flu is always somewhere in the world, it's moving around and changing year to year," Crowe said.
It's the influenza's ability to morph that has stumped researchers. That's why some years the flu vaccine works great, other years, poorly. But if you learn the rules of how the flu vaccine works in the body, you have a potent flu fighter.
"Trying to get our mind around getting ahead of the flu, so we can have a single vaccine that would take care of all influenza's," Crowe said.
Crowe and his team of researchers have lofty goals, nothing short of saving lives.
"The principal goal is to keep the most severe flu from happening, which puts people in the hospital or dying. That's the main goal, to prevent the severe effects," Crowe said.
Dotting the research hallways are canisters with blood cells from people who suffered from bird flu infections, and others who have received the flu vaccine. The cells are kept at extreme cold temperatures, reaching 200 degrees below zero.
"Part of what we are doing, we give people a flu vaccine and then take immune molecules out of the body, and look at how they work here in the lab," Crowe said.
Studying the flu at this depth just began in the past month. Researchers are hoping for a big payoff.
"If we can keep people out of the hospital and keep them from dying, that would be a major human accomplishment," Crowe said.
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