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New flu vaccine on the horizon

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12 March 2013

Researchers have discovered how the influenza virus evades the body's immune system by mutating into new strains, progressing the search for a broad-based treatment.

In a study published in PNAS, researchers from Monash University, the University of Melbourne and international collaborators found mutations to new strains of influenza virus could be predicted and potentially stopped.

Influenza, a chronic and highly infectious respiratory disease, infects between three and five million people annually, according to the World Health Organisation. It causes up to half a million deaths world-wide each year and, at epidemic levels, places stress on hospitals and contributes to productivity loss through wide-spread absenteeism.

The influenza virus responds to attacks by immune system cells known as T-cells, by mutating into new strains. The study showed that these mutations could be predicted, potentially allowing the development of vaccines to protect against them.   

The research could also have implications for the treatment viruses such Hepatitis C and  HIV, which, like influenza, are based on RNA and mutate in a similar way. 

Professor Jamie Rossjohn and Dr Stephanie Gras from Monash University's School of Biomedical Sciences collaborated on the research with Melbourne University's Associate Professor Katherine Kedzierska, Professor Peter Doherty and Professor Stephen Turner.

Read the full study online at pnas.org.

For further information, or to request interviews, contact Emily Walker, Monash Media and Communications on +61 3 9903 4844 | +61 428 277 308 or emily.walker@monash.edu.