Researchers working on a medical breakthrough: a universal flu vaccine

Jan 24, 2018

Imagine if the flu was about as common as diphtheria, measles or other relatively rare viruses. Researchers say if a universal vaccine being tested right now does what they hope it will, people would be able to get a flu shot that protects against any form of influenza.

As health officials report one of the most severe flu seasons in recent years, Rochester Clinical Research is one of five sites around the U.S. enrolling subjects in trial studies for the vaccine.

Lead investigator of the local study, Dr. Matthew Davis, says if the vaccine works, it could be given just once every five to 10 years, like a tetanus shot.

"It would relegate the flu to much the same thing as other infectious diseases like diphtheria, pertussis and measles, mumps and rubella," Davis says. "They used to be scourges of the population. The flu would be a relatively insignificant viral player."

Davis says the science isn't new, but the technology is.

"It's really related to the fact that you can now cut and splice genes and move viruses around with relative ease that you are now able to create a vaccine to do this," he says.

This vaccine is different than the current flu shot because it targets proteins in the flu virus.

"The proteins are remarkably conserved from year to year, so if you can get your immune system to recognize these proteins as something that is a foreign invader, then the antibodies will stay around from year to year," Davis says.

Rochester Clinical Research is looking to enroll 100 people in the study. They're looking for healthy volunteers between 18 and 39 who have NOT had a flu shot in the last six months.

"We don't want people to assume it's going to work, but if the science is correct, people enrolled in this trial may get better protection from this vaccine that the current one you get commercially," Davis says.

Early tests on humans and animals have shown the vaccine to be safe, according to Davis.  Now, researchers want to understand how effective it is.

The deadline to enroll for the local study is January 31.