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

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid