Universal Flu Protection: Medicine's Next Big Thing?

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Some would call it the holy grail of immunology. Researchers in labs across the country are working to develop a one-time flu vaccination that would give people long-term protection from all strains of the flu. Now, researchers at the University of Central Florida are trying to take the guesswork out of that vaccine development.

The flu virus spreads quickly. At best, you're achy for several days. At its worst, the flu can kill. Every year, a vaccine offers protection, but fewer than half of all adults get one.

Scientist Kai McKinstry, PhD, at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, UCF wants to make immunization more effective for people.

McKinstry said, "It should protect us season, after season, irrespective of what kinds of viruses happen to be floating around."

McKinstry is examining how the immune system responds. Once a person gets sick from a pathogen, the body remembers it and is less likely to get sick from it again.

"We want to boost that memory. We want to turn it on, and we also want to make it as effective as possible." McKinstry continued.

McKinstry and fellow immunologists are studying a group of white blood cells called T-cells. In animals, T-cells have been shown to provide strong protection against the flu.

"The great thing about T-cell immunity is it can recognize conserved parts of these viruses across many different strains." Said McKinstry

So even though the flu changes each year, one immunization that activates T-cells, could protect against all strains.

Someday permanent protection against the flu and the misery it can bring.

Professor McKinstry says it's also important to consider the site of infection and since the lung is the infection site for flu, a nasal spray would be a good way to provide immunity.