Fighting the Flu in the Future: Medicine's Next Big Thing?

January 6, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
It's the season for sneezin', sniffles, and sickness. Every year, between five and 20 percent of the US population gets the flu and the infected could be passing it on to you before they even know they're sick! Researchers are hard at work developing better ways to fight the flu.

It's a three letter word that might bring to mind a lot of four letter words.

Chemical Engineer, Tim Whitehead, and a team of researchers from across the US want to wipe it out.

"And so this is a powerful new approach," Tim Whitehead at Michigan State University told Ivanhoe.

Using super computers they're designing proteins from scratch that are able to find a vulnerable portion of the virus that is in most common strains and latch on.

"That was an Achilles' heal for the virus," Whitehead explained.

In the lab, the proteins have been tested in animal cells.

"In the presence of our protein, the cells aren't infected," Whitehead said.

Meanwhile, wired-dot-com reports, Craig Venter, who helped sequence the human genome wants us all to be able to print flu vaccines. At a recent health conference, Venter said his team is working on digitizing vaccines that could be emailed, downloaded, printed from a special device, and injected.

From printed protection to powerful proteins, soon the flu might not stand a chance.

Whitehead tells us the flu protein is separate from a vaccine and the idea is to administer it before or after an outbreak. He says we are about five to ten years from human testing. As for printable vaccines, wired-dot-com reports, Venter's team is currently testing a biological printer, but there are a lot of regulatory issues to consider before it ever becomes a reality.


BACKGROUND: Body aches, fever, tiredness, sore throat, headaches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and cough; all symptoms of the dreaded flu. Normally those who have the flu know it, but in some less severe cases symptoms can be similar to the common cold. Medical attention should be sought if there are symptoms like severe vomiting, confusion, sudden dizziness, seizures, or difficulty breathing. Children, pregnant women, seniors, people with health conditions, those who travel, and people with disabilities are at an increased risk of becoming infected with the flu. With so many at risk, newer and better vaccinations are always in the works. (Source:

HOW TO CARE FOR ONE WITH THE FLU: When caring for someone who is infected with the flu virus, there are certain precautions that should be followed. First make sure the sick person follows all instructions given by their doctor and make sure they take all of their recommended medications. Keep the sick person away from other people as much as possible, isolating them to a specific "sick room" is recommended. (Source:

TREATMENT: The flu can be treated with or without medications. Over-the-counter medications may relieve symptoms, but they will not make you less contagious. Sometimes the health care professional may prescribe antiviral medications to prevent further complications. Antibiotics can be prescribed if the flu has progressed to a bacterial infection (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGIES FOR VACCINATIONS: Most of us all know about the flu, how it can make you feel, and how to prevent it. New technology is being developed to allow vaccinations to be more effective and easily accessible. Super computers have been designed to produce proteins from scratch that will find the weakest part of the virus and attack it. The proteins are not a vaccine. They are suggested to be administered after or before a flu outbreak. However, professionals are developing a new kind of vaccination, software that will allow people to print a vaccine on a 3-D computer and then inject it on the spot to prevent the flu. Geneticist, Craig Venter, and his team are testing the digital biological converter. This would revolutionize healthcare and biological warfare. For example, if an area became infected with a deadly virus and they are isolated from the rest of the world, sending a vaccination electronically would save many lives. While this is a revolutionary idea, there are dangers of spam interference and regulation. (Source: -----

If you would like more information, please contact:

Tim Whitehead, PhD
Michigan State University
(517) 432-2097