Swiss immunologist Antonio Lanzavecchia says that observing the human immune response to influenza convinced him that it would be possible to design a vaccine that prevails over mutation. During the 2009 N1H1 flu pandemic, Lanzavecchia discovered that some people had antibodies that inactivate all influenza A subtypes. After examining over 100,000 white blood cells, he and his team developed a special antibody: “Our FI6 antibody is the first one ever found that reacts to all 16 of the influenza A subtypes,’ says Lanzavecchia.”
What’s the Big Idea?
The new antibody itself is not a vaccine, but it could be an instruction manual for making one. The scientists say that a small protein mimicking the part of the virus bound by the FI6 antibody might cajole the immune system into making similarly cross-reactive antibodies. And while Lanzavecchia admits that developing the FI6 binding site into a new vaccine may take years, he hopes that the antibody itself might be used as a treatment in the meantime. The treatment has so far been successful in treating mice and ferrets.