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Colorized electron micrographs of Ace-DEX microparticles.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are developing a universal flu vaccine which could be effective against multiple influenza strains and in multiple flu seasons.

In the United States, up to 35.6 million people become infected with the flu each year, resulting in up to 710,000 hospitalizations and 56,000 flu related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The effectiveness of seasonal flu vaccines can vary from year to year — with some years, such as 2004, as low as 10 percent efficacy.

Eric Bachelder and Kristy Ainslie
Eric Bachelder, Ph.D., and Kristy Ainslie, Ph.D.

In a study published by the Journal of Controlled Release, UNC researchers were able to show that a universal flu vaccine was effective in protecting mice who were exposed to multiple strains and provided an over 85 percent protective efficacy against potentially lethal levels of the H1N1 flu strain.

While the seasonal flu vaccine is tailored towards specific strains of the flu, a universal flu vaccine would target a part of the virus that is more conserved across strains, said Kristy Ainslie, Ph.D., a co-author of the study and an associate professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

“Developing seasonal flu vaccines is very much a guessing game each year, and flu virus mutation often renders seasonal vaccines ineffective,” Ainslie said. “If developed, a universal flu vaccine would be effective against a greater number of strains, and be effective for multiple seasons.”

About the study:

The platform tested by UNC researchers is based around the protein M2e and the vaccine adjuvant cGAMP encapsulated in an acetalated dextran (Ace-DEX) microparticle. It elicited broad and protective responses in mice that were exposed to influenza. Additionally, antibodies taken from the mice were protective against multiple influenza strains.

Along with Ainslie, the authors on the paper include:

  • Naihan Chen, Ph.D., a former graduate research associate in the Ainslie lab now working at Pfizer
  • Matthew Gallovic, Ph.D., a former postdoctoral fellow in the Ainslie lab now at IMMvention Therapeutix
  • Pamela Tiet, Ph.D., a former postdoctoral fellow in the Ainslie lab now at United Therapeutics
  • Jenny P.Y. Ting, Ph.D., William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Genetics at the UNC School of Medicine
  • Eric Bachelder, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy

Find the Article


DOI: 10.1016/j.jconrel.2018.09.020

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