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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Vanderbilt: Researchers Partner with Scripps to Discover Flu’s “Hidden Target”

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, have discovered a “hidden target” on the surface of the hypervariable influenza A virus that could lead to better ways to prevent and treat the flu.

Because influenza A viruses such as H1N1 and H3N2 mutate continuously, vaccines sometimes provide variable or incomplete protection and must be updated annually. Poor matches can lead to severe flu seasons as in 2017-2018, when an estimated 80,000 people in the United States died from flu-related complications.

Isolated from a donor with an extensive influenza vaccination history, the antibody, called FluA-20, protected mice from four flu strains that cause disease in humans, the researchers reported this week in the journal Cell.

“We were surprised and excited to find this new site of vulnerability on the surface of influenza, which we were able to identify by making hundreds of different antibodies from immune subjects,” said Dr. James Crowe Jr., director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center.

Exposing and targeting this buried protein sequence could lead to broader, more effective and longer lasting vaccines and treatments. “The human body’s own natural response for flu is teaching us the way forward toward a universal flu vaccine,” Dr. Crowe said.

The research was supported in part by National Institutes of Health grants AI117905, AI127371 and AI097092 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, GM103393 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and TR002243 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.