News / Health

Scientists Develop Therapy That Someday Might Protect Public Against Flu Pandemics

Flu shot
Flu shot
Jessica Berman
Researchers have developed a gene therapy against pandemic influenza in laboratory animals, one that stops infection at the point of entry - the nose.  The therapy could potentially thwart the most aggressive viral pathogens, saving the lives of an estimated 500,000 people who die worldwide each year from the flu.

The genetic therapy developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania expresses so-called broadly neutralizing antibodies, giving lab mice and ferrets almost complete protection against a number of lethal avian influenza strains, including those isolated from the deadly 1918 and 2009 pandemics.  

Unlike conventional vaccines which stimulate the body’s natural immune system to fight an infection, broadly neutralizing antibodies halt a virus’s biological activity so it cannot make people sick by infecting cells in the first place.  The antibodies can become effective in two to three days.

The head of the University of Pennsylvania's Gene Therapy Program, James Wilson, says scientists created a nasal spray to introduce protective genes.

“And create what I call a "bioshield" around the nose and the mouth to prevent the influenza virus from replicating,” Wilson said.

The genes, which engineer the tissue to produce protective antibodies, were delivered by a harmless cold virus in the nasal spray.  

The therapy uses a single gene that produces antibodies against many different flu strains, hence the term, "broadly neutralizing antibodies."  Wilson says this broad-based strategy protected all mice exposed to lethal amounts of three strains of H5N1 and two strains of H1N1.  

But the microbes replicated or reproduced rapidly in untreated rodents.  The nasal spray was also successfully tested in ferrets, a good model for human flu because the tiny, furry animals cough and sneeze when sick.

Conventional vaccines to protect against seasonal influenza are not 100 percent effective in preventing illness.  The viral strains mutate rapidly, so there is little or no immune-system protection stimulated by the previous year’s flu shot, and the pathogens can evade experts' predictions of what virus is likely to be in circulation during the coming flu season.

Wilson says a different approach to flu protection is needed.  Researchers are currently in discussions with U.S. drug regulators about quickly testing the therapy in humans using a safe flu strain.  According to Wilson, they are aiming to manufacture and stockpile the drug in anticipation of a serious influenza pandemic.

“So then there is a pretty direct path into first, in human safety and then efficacy studies, which we have charted out.  And with the right resources, we could move very quickly on that,” Wilson said.

Wilson says the U.S. government has also expressed an interest in using the broadly neutralizing antibody approach to protect against bioweapons, such as anthrax and other toxic agents.

An article on the development of a gene therapy against pandemic influenza is published in Science Translational Medicine.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More