Washington: Scientists including an Indian-origin are now closer to developing a universal flu vaccine, after they used the 2009 pandemic as a natural experiment to study why some people resist severe illness.
Lead researcher Professor Ajit Lalvani from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London and his team rapidly recruited 342 staff and students at Imperial to take part in their study in autumn 2009.
The volunteers donated blood samples and were given nasal swabs. They were sent emails every three weeks asking them to fill in a survey about their health. If they experienced flu symptoms, they took a nasal swab and sent it back to the lab.
They found that those who fell more severely ill with flu had fewer CD8 T cells in their blood, and those who caught flu but had no symptoms or only mild symptoms had more of these cells.
Professor Lalvani said that the immune system produces these CD8 T cells in response to usual seasonal flu.
He said that unlike antibodies, they target the core of the virus, which doesn't change, even in new pandemic strains and the 2009 pandemic provided a unique natural experiment to test whether T cells could recognise, and protect us against, new strains that we haven't encountered before and to which we lack antibodies.
Lalvani asserted that their findings suggest that by making the body produce more of this specific type of CD8 T cell, you can protect people against symptomatic illness and this could provide the blueprint for developing a universal flu vaccine.
The findings have been published in Nature Medicine.
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