Each year thousands of people across the world are struck down with the flu, with many young and elderly forced to receive treatment in hospital for severe cases.
Thankfully, there are vaccines in place that can be administered before the flu season hits. However, this must be done annually as the strain of influenza can develop and change, meaning the vaccine is no longer effective.
After many years of research, scientists from the University of Oxford‘s Department of Zoology have discovered a way to potentially create a universal vaccine.
The study, published in Nature Communications, revealed a universal vaccine could be created, which once administered would provide lifelong protection against influenza.
For 20 years scientists have worked together, using tests on mice to determine how the flu works and what can be done to prevent it. The researchers initially theorised that parts of the virus targeted by the immune system limit in variability and act as constraints on the evolution of the virus.
After much investigation Dr Craig Thompson discovered the location of those regions of limited variability. From that, he found regions of the virus that circulated in 2006 and 1977 were actually able to protect against infection with an influenza virus that last circulated in 1934.
Basically, this means scientists could potentially create a universal vaccine against the flu. According to the researchers this approach could then later be used on other viruses such as HIV and even to protect against the common cold.
“The integrated approach to vaccine design that we have applied to flu has the potential to be applied to other previously intractable pathogens and could revolutionise the way we develop vaccines,” Thompson explained.
The need for a vaccine like this is growing significantly as the world deals with an increase of influenza cases.
More and more people are turning to the vaccine for protection, with a deadly flu outbreak spreading across Australia last year.
The killer season in 2017 claimed numerous lives and more than 71,000 people became infected with influenza. With the flurry heading to their doctors to receive the vaccine, there were fears there wouldn’t be enough to go around. New South Wales and Victoria were both struggling to keep us with demand.