SEATTLE, Washington – It's shaping up to be a particularly bad year for flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 170 children have already died from flu complications.
Seasonal flu shots only protect you from three or four strains of flu but researchers at the University of Washington are working to change that with a vaccine that would protect against all strains.
That would be great for Lauren Reed. She has two small children and a full-time job.
She knows yearly flu shots don't protect against all strains of the flu.
"Even if it's a little chance to avoid it, I'll take that!"
Two researchers in two different labs have been working on a universal flu vaccine, one that would protect against all strains.
Now, they're working together.
David Baker is designing proteins to generate broad responses to flu.
"The proteins mimic the virus so that when you get immunized with the protein, your body sees that it's foreign and makes a response, and if it's similar enough to the virus, then the response to the vaccine will also be a response to the virus," explained David Baker, director of the University's Institute for Protein Design.
The protein leaves the body, but the immune response remains active.
In her lab, Deborah Fuller had identified genetic sequences to fight flu, but people's immune responses weren't strong.
Now, with Baker's protein platform and the gene gun she's developing, work on a universal flu vaccine is moving forward.
"We put the DNA encoded on small one-micron size gold particles, and those gold particles are accelerated by a gene gun at high velocity, and the transferred into the cells of the skin," said Fuller, a microbiology professor.
NEW RESEARCH: Current vaccines take nine months from the time the virus has been identified to the time it can actually be injected into people. Most mortality that occurs with the flu happens in the first three to six months, thus vaccines are not available when they are most needed. A DNA vaccine takes less than three months to produce, and would protect against all types of flu. The first DNA vaccines were delivered with just a needle and syringe and were very inefficient due to the poor uptake of DNA into the body`s cells. Now, with the gene gun, the DNA could be transferred much more effectively into the cells of the skin, resulting in more cells producing the vaccine and much better immune responses.
She says it doesn't hurt a bit.
Now, she's working on a gene gun for clinical trials, but those may not begin for five years.
Fuller guesses it could be ten years before you can go to your doctor and get this universal flu vaccine.
Both she and Baker say the potential of this collaboration is big: they could use this system for other diseases like HIV or cancer.
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