An immune cell capable of acting against different strains of the flu has been discovered by Australian researchers, who now hope to create an effective vaccine against all influenza viruses.
In a study published this week in the journal Nature Immunology, researcher Katherine Kedzierska of the University of Melbourne says the cells in question, called “killer T cells” or “T cells,” have been shown to be effective against type A, B and C, thanks to its “memory abilities.”
“Influenza viruses are constantly mutating to escape our immune defenses,” said Marios Koutsakos, a researcher with the Melbourne team. “But today, we have identified areas common to all strains that can infect humans, including those from animal species such as bird flu, for example.”
In collaboration with the University of Fudan, China, the team of Australian researchers studied the immune responses of patients with H7N9 avian influenza that affected Asia in 2013.
This Type A virus, which was transmitted to humans by birds, infected at least 133 people, mostly in China and Taiwan, and killed 43 people between February and August 2013, according to the World Health Organization. health (WHO).
Australian researchers found that patients who had recovered within two or three weeks had active killer cells, while those who died from H7N9 infection had reduced levels of these cells.
“The next step for us was to study how their protective mechanism works to see if they have the potential to act as a flu shot,” says Kedzierska.
Previous studies have already demonstrated the effectiveness of “T cells” against certain influenza viruses. The researchers point out that these killer cells are present in the form of white blood cells in half of the human population.
The scientific team hopes to soon develop a universal vaccine that would not have to be revised from year to year.
Currently, every year, influenza specialists around the world monitor viruses and send their data to the World Health Organization (WHO). Twice a year, WHO is studying these data and trying to predict which strains of the influenza virus will be most prevalent in the coming winter. The effectiveness of the vaccine, however, may vary from year to year, depending on the types of influenza viruses circulating.