Team Seeks to Identify Immune Response to Influenza

Vanderbilt researchers, as part of the International Human Vaccines Project, are searching for the key to lasting protection against influenza by examining naturally protecting cells found in bone marrow.

The work is part of a new comprehensive evaluation of the human immune system’s response to influenza led by Buddy Creech, MD, MPH, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program.

“What’s so exciting about clinical research now is that we have more robust tools than ever to ask questions about the immune system and to understand what makes people respond a certain way to vaccination or infection,” Creech said.

Study participants will be analyzed for individual immune responses to a standard influenza vaccination and also gene regulation, influence of the microbiome and several other factors such as whether gender affects immune response.

Researchers also will take samples after vaccination from participants’ lymph nodes and bone marrow, where key immune cells reside.

“By sampling the blood frequently and getting samples from lymph nodes and the bone marrow, we can provide one of the most comprehensive studies of the immune response to influenza that scientists have ever been able to undertake,” said Human Vaccines Project President and CEO Wayne Koff.

“Such work will accelerate the development of more effective influenza vaccines and may lead to the development of a universal influenza vaccine that provides durable protection against influenza even as it changes from year to year. The study will also help elucidate mechanisms of the human immune system that are universal to how people fight disease,” Koff said.

Scientists do not yet fully understand what it will take for someone to be immune to a pathogen like influenza for a prolonged period of time, which will be crucial to developing universal vaccines that provide lasting protection against different strains.

“From the moment many of us arrive in medical school and start seeing patients, we become very curious about why some individuals do not develop a specific infection, why some are seemingly mildly affected by it, and still others are profoundly devastated by what turns out to be the exact same pathogen,” Creech said. “We must seek to understand why the body’s response in each case is different.”

The study is funded and facilitated by the non-profit Human Vaccines Project, which has established a global consortium of researchers to systematically decode the human immune system in order to create better prevention, diagnostics and treatments for a range of diseases.

Source: Vanderbilt University Medical Center 

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