A universal, one-dose flu vaccine has long been a holy grail for medical researchers. With the World Health Organization estimating over half a million people die every year from influenza, and the social and economic costs being almost impossible to calculate, the impact of an effective flu vaccine cannot be underestimated. New research from the University of Washington School of Medicine could pave the way for a universal flu shot by developing a novel DNA vaccine that targets the genetic components of the virus.
"Relatively speaking, DNA vaccination is the new kid on the block with regard to the types of vaccines," explains Deborah Fuller, whose UW Medicine lab is leading this innovative research.
DNA vaccines are at the vanguard of modern medical research. Unlike conventional vaccines, which utilize whole forms of an organism to generate an immune response, a DNA vaccine inserts a genetic code into a cell directing it to produce a pathogenic antigen that subsequently triggers an immune response.
"We've been working essentially with the same vaccine (techniques) over the last 40 years," says Fuller. "It's been a shake-and-bake vaccine: You produce the virus, you kill the virus, you inject it. Now it's time for vaccines to go through an overhaul, and this includes the influenza vaccine."
DNA vaccines offer many significant benefits over traditional vaccines. They are cheaper and faster to make than current vaccine production methods and, because they target fundamental genetic components of a virus, they get around the problem of "genetic drift." This means a single shot could protect against all influenza strains, both in the past and the future.