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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid