[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 22-May-2013
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Contact: NIAID Office of Communications
niaidnews@niaid.nih.gov
301-402-1663
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Novel approach for influenza vaccination shows promise in early animal testing

New research advances development of universal flu vaccine

IMAGE: When ferritin (gray) is fused with the influenza protein hemagglutinin (blue), it self-assembles into a sphere with eight protruding spikes from its surface.

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A new approach for immunizing against influenza elicited a more potent immune response and broader protection than the currently licensed seasonal influenza vaccines when tested in mice and ferrets. The vaccine concept, which was developed by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), represents an important step forward in the quest to develop a universal influenza vaccine—one that would protect against most or all influenza strains without the need for an annual vaccination.

The scientists designed an experimental vaccine featuring the protein ferritin, which can self-assemble into microscopic pieces called nanoparticles, as a key component. Ferritin was fused genetically with hemagglutinin (HA), the protein found on the surface of the influenza virus, resulting in a nanoparticle with eight protruding viral spikes. Using this as the basis for the vaccine antigen, the researchers created an experimental vaccine using HA from a 1999 strain of H1N1 influenza virus and evaluated its ability to stimulate an immune response in mice. A single dose of the experimental vaccine both with and without the use of an adjuvant triggered an immune response in the mice comparable to two doses of the currently licensed seasonal influenza vaccine. The experimental vaccine was also active against a wider range of H1N1 influenza virus strains than the licensed vaccine.

The researchers also tested the experimental vaccine's ability to protect ferrets from infection with a 2007 strain of H1N1 influenza virus – a strain it had not been specifically designed to prevent. One day after exposure to the virus, ferrets that had received the experimental vaccine had significantly lower influenza virus levels than those that were not immunized. According to the study authors, the novel vaccine concept works by stimulating antibodies that hitch themselves to the parts of the influenza virus that stay consistent across different strains. Although further testing is needed, the HA-ferritin nanoparticle approach shows promise for development of more broadly protective vaccines for influenza as well as for other infectious diseases, the authors note.

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ARTICLE: Kanekiyo M et al. Self-assembling influenza nanoparticle vaccines elicit broadly neutralizing H1N1 antibodies. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature12202.

NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., and John R. Mascola, M.D., acting director for NIAID's Vaccine Research Center, are available to discuss the findings.

To schedule interviews, please contact the NIAID News Office, (301) 402-1663, niaidnews@niaid.nih.gov.

NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov/.

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