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Princeton Team's Analysis of Flu Virus Could Lead to Better Vaccines

by Lynn Shapiro, Writer | July 21, 2009

Indeed, the perplexing pattern of enhanced cross-reactivities observed by Ndifon can be attributed to viruses that differ only at the sites on their surfaces where the less effective antibodies bind. Such variants would make ideal vaccine strains, guiding the immune system to produce two distinct types of antibodies: effective ones that are well matched to and good at binding to the infecting virus, and ineffective ones that are poorly matched to and bad at binding to the infecting virus, and consequently stay out of the way.

Today, vaccine designers, such as those working on new forms of flu vaccines, center their efforts upon developing a weakened strain of a virus that matches as closely as possible the anticipated infecting strain. Patients are then inoculated with this attenuated virus to provoke the creation of antibodies that will protect against future attacks.

The Princeton scientists suggest their findings show that a better way might involve intentionally developing a vaccine strain that differs from the anticipated infectious virus at the sites where less effective antibodies bind. In this way, the ineffective antibodies would stay out of the way in the face of a real influenza virus, allowing the effective antibodies to more fiercely fight the dangerous infecting strain when it comes along.

The team does not expect to develop a vaccine but is hoping to inspire others. Wingreen is a theoretical physicist, Levin is a theoretical ecologist and Ndifon is a graduate student learning theoretical biology. "Our best bet is to express our ideas as clearly as we can and hope someone will find them interesting and do the necessary experiments to verify or disprove them," Wingreen said.


Source: Princeton University

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