Hamilton’s McMaster scientists working on more effective flu vaccine

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Published May 25, 2021 at 8:36 pm

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Scientists at Hamilton’s McMaster University are making strong headway on reducing the number of people who get the flu each year in spite of getting a flu shot.

Researchers from McMaster and the University at Buffalo have developed an experimental flu vaccine that might improve the adaptiveness and effectiveness of seasonal vaccines. Their work was recently published in Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.  

A separate Canadian study suggested that getting a flu shot prevents about six in 10 people from getting the flu during the winter of 2019-20 when there was an early flu season just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. While that seems like decent protection from getting sick, making flu vaccines is a time-consuming method that involves growing them in embryonated chicken eggs.

Keeping up with new flu strains that emerge annually is also difficult.

Researchers say their new nanoparticle vaccine, which is made using lipids, does a better job of targeting the correct circulating strains and invoking a strong immune response.

“When we grow a virus in cells or eggs, we get live virus particles that break apart, but on those live virus particles, the proteins are packed together tightly,” said Dr. Matthew Miller, a study co-author and associate professor at McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research. “In our vaccine, we can carefully control the density of what we put into it so that those proteins aren’t packed so tightly, making it easier for the immune system to find the piece of the virus we want it to see.”

Miller added that improving the effectiveness of seasonal vaccines would also be helpful if a “new pandemic were to emerge.”

The DeGroote Institute is part of Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Global Threats.

Funding to support the study came from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, from a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) New Investigator Award from the Government of Ontario, a CIHR Canada Graduate Scholarship and Physicians Services Inc. Research Trainee Fellowship.

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