Brussels, 19 October 2006
Professor Nigel Dimmock from the University of Warwick has developed a vaccination method that effectively turns the flu virus against itself. This new method is particularly important because it can be used against numerous different strains of flu, and therefore may be the answer to avian flu. Traditional vaccines are specific to only one type of flu.
Mr Dimmock has spent the last twenty years of his career developing this innovative method that uses what he calls a 'protecting virus'. He has devised a system by which a significant portion of the flu's genetic make-up is deleted rendering the virus harmless and incapable of reproducing on its own. However, when it comes in contact with another strain of flu it then starts to reproduce all the while remaining innocuous.
The neutralised flu combination reproduces at a much higher rate than the normal virus, thereby crowding out the harmful virus. This slows its development process giving the body time to develop a sufficient response to ward it off. The infectious virus in effect becomes its own vaccine.
Research into the method indicates that it is effective against all types of flu strains. Traditional vaccines stimulate the body's natural defence into producing antibodies that attach themselves to the surface of the virus and kill it. Such vaccines are effective for only one type of flu due to the fact that the surface to each type of virus is different; therefore you must trigger the right kind of antibody.
That is why existing vaccines remain ineffective against new strains of the flu; such as with avian flu. Mr Dimmock's method takes a different approach to fighting flu infections and may be the answer to concerns of an avian flu pandemic.
An added benefit to the 'protecting virus' approach is that its beneficial qualities go into effect immediately, as opposed to the two to three week incubation period for traditional vaccines. Another advantage is that the flu virus does not appear to become resistant to the 'protecting virus', which is a serious problem with many microbes.
Aside from its effectiveness in fighting the flu, another feature might make this approach the vaccine of the future: no needles. So far tests have been conducted with a drop of saline containing the protecting virus squirted up the nose.
The University of Warwick research team has filed a patent on the protecting virus and are exploring ways to organise human clinical trials. The university has established the company ViraBiotech as way of advancing research.
Normally such research would not be made public until human trials have been conducted, but due to global concern of flu outbreaks, including avian flu, the university decided to release the preliminary findings as a way to aid further research.