New research finds that the human body’s alleged killer immune cells protect against all influenza viruses. Influenza A, B, and C infect a substantial number of people globally each year.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there have been already more than 30,000 cases of hospitalization due to influenza, commonly known as the “flu.” The CDC says that during this time, nearly 200 children have died as a result of the flu, out of which about 80% had not received a flu vaccine that season.
Estimates place the effectiveness of the current flu vaccine at 40%. Professor Katherine Kedzierska of the University of Melbourne is the study’s corresponding author. She is also the laboratory head at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity.
Professor Kedzierska explains there has been insufficient research on certain strains of influenza. She says Influenza B, in particular, has remained understudied because it lacks pandemic potential. She explains that it is a virus that can lead to severe illness or even death, especially among young children.
The research was conducted in collaboration with scientists in the Purcell laboratory at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute in Clayton, Australia. The Purcell laboratory specializes in discovering epitopes using mass spectrometry.
Epitopes are described as the part of an antigen – that is, a foreign body or substance that provokes an immune response. Mass spectrometry is a technique that measures the weight and structure of small molecules.
Professor Kedzierska and her colleagues used mass spectrometry to find the common epitopes, for a type of immune cell called “T cells.” The scientists investigated the “T cells” because prior research had shown that these cells are active in the body’s immune system to respond to some particular kind of flu strains.
In the current study, the research team has discovered that killer T cells protect against all types of influenza virus: A, B, and C.
A researcher with the Doherty Institute and also the first author of the paper, Dr. Marios Koutsakos, further explains that the peptides that are responsible for activating the killer T cells reveal extraordinarily reduced levels of flu virus and inflammation in the airways Dr. Koutsakos and colleagues conclude that the breakthrough findings may mean that the flu vaccine does not need updating every year.
The researchers now plan to develop a universal flu vaccine based on their findings.