Researchers find better way to make flu virus vaccine

May 13th, 2009 - 3:03 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, May 13 (IANS) Scientists have found a better way to make a vaccine against the flu virus.
They are closely examining what has been a poorly appreciated aspect of the interface between a virus and those defensive proteins called antibodies that fight them.

By manipulating this multi-stage interactive process — known as antibody interference — to advantage, scientists believe it may be possible to design more powerful vaccines than the existing ones today.

“We have proposed that antibody interference plays a major role in determining the effectiveness of the antibody response to a viral infection,” said Ned Wingreen, professor of molecular biology and a member of Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.

“And we believe that in order to get a more powerful vaccine, people are going to want one that minimises this interference.”

Other co-authors include Simon Levin, professor of biology and Wilfred Ndifon, graduate student in Levin’s lab and study co-author.

When a virus like influenza attacks a human, the body mounts a defence, producing antibodies custom-designed to attach themselves to the virus, blocking it from action and effectively neutralising its harmful effects on the body.

Analysing data about viral structure, antibody types and the reactions between them produced by virology lab, Ndifon noticed a perplexing pattern.

He found that antibodies were often better at protecting against a slightly different virus, a close cousin, than against the virus that spurred their creation. This is known as cross-reactivity.

Strangely, antibodies that are actually less effective at protecting the body against a specific virus are often equally adept at attaching themselves to the virus, blocking the more effective antibodies from doing their job, said a Lewis-Sigler Institute release.

The scientists suggest that if a way can be found to weaken the binding of the less effective antibodies, then this might constitute a new approach to vaccine design.

The findings were published in the Monday online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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