Gene gun aims to shoot down all flu strains
It’s shaping up to be a particularly bad year for flu. The CDC says over 170 children have already died from flu complications. Seasonal flu shots only protect you from three or four strains of flu, but researchers at the University of Washington are working to change that with a vaccine that would protect against all strains, and a delivery system that doesn’t hurt!
Lauren Reed has two small children and a full-time job. She knows yearly flu shots don’t protect against all strains of the flu.
Reed said, “Even if it’s a little chance to avoid it, I’ll take that!”
Two researchers in two different labs have been working on a universal flu vaccine, one that would protect against all strains. Now, they’re working together. David Baker, PhD Director for the Institute for Protein Design at University of Washington is designing proteins to generate broad responses to flu.
Baker said, “The proteins mimic the virus so that when you get immunized with the protein, your body sees that it’s foreign and makes a response, and if it’s similar enough to the virus, then the response to the vaccine will also be a response to the virus.”
The protein leaves the body, but the immune response remains active.
In her lab, Deborah Fuller, PhD, Professor, Department of Microbiology, had identified genetic sequences to fight flu, but people’s immune responses weren’t strong. Now, with Baker’s protein platform and the gene gun she’s developing, work on a universal flu vaccine is moving forward.
Fuller said, “We put the DNA encoded on small one-micron size gold particles, and those gold particles are accelerated by a gene gun at high velocity, and then transferred into the cells of the skin.”
She says it doesn’t hurt a bit. Now, she’s working on a gene gun for clinical trials, but those may not begin for five years.
Fuller guesses it could be ten years before you can go to your doctor and get this universal flu vaccine. Both she and Baker say the potential of this collaboration is big: they could use this system for other diseases like HIV or cancer.
Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.