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Landmark Immunity Study Could Give Vaccine Research a Shot in the Arm

By its very nature, influenza poses a serious threat to become a pandemic. For this reason, scientists are also concerned that a genetically altered version of the flu virus might be used in a bioterror attack.

To better understand the issue, researchers at Stanford University’s NIAID-funded Cooperative Center for Translational Research on Human Immunology and Biodefense are analyzing the body's immune response to the influenza virus. By focusing on how the body wages war against the flu, the researchers hope to identify new vaccine strategies to better protect against a pandemic strain.

In this study, center director Ann Arvin, M.D., and co-director Harry Greenberg, M.D., are comparing the body's responses to two widely used influenza vaccines: the inactivated flu vaccine, which delivers killed virus through a shot in the arm, and the live attenuated influenza vaccine, which delivers live, weakened virus through a nasal spray.

"Our goal is to conduct a side-by-side comparison of the immune responses induced by these two very different vaccines, both of which work well but in different ways," says Dr. Arvin.

The researchers will examine how the two vaccines influence T-cell and B-cell immune responses, including the production of antibodies, in children as well as in adults. In addition, the research team will observe the activity of natural killer cells, cells that nonspecifically destroy virus-infected cells, to determine if they play a role in the body's early warning system.

Team members believe that observed immune responses will serve as an excellent model for understanding how the immune system fights other respiratory pathogens as well. The new information could be used to develop more rapid-acting vaccines or to develop vaccines targeted to flu proteins less prone to change.

The project is a large multidisciplinary effort of Stanford researchers.

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Last Updated February 03, 2010