Parts of the flu virus mutate constantly, which is why scientists have to update the vaccine every year just to keep our immune systems primed to recognize it. But this experimental vaccine targets a part of the virus that hasn't changed since the 1918 epidemic. Dr. Christine Turley is the lead author of the newly-published study.
"That's why we get a new flu vaccine every year because the virus keeps changing. There are some parts of the virus though that don't change but up until now we have never been able to develop a good response to those areas of the virus that don't change."
Sixty people participated in the stage 1 clinical trial. The UTMB researchers found that the new vaccine is safe and produces antibodies in the human immune system. More trials will be needed to show the vaccine protects against flu out in the real world.
"The thing that's unique about the vaccine that we're studying is it would offer protection from the flu virus for multiple years."
Turley says this vaccine could provide a defense against multiple strains of flu and would last for 5 to 10 years. That means people would only need periodic boosters, kind of like a tetanus shot.
"It's important because if we could develop a flu vaccine that does not need to be updated annually. It starts to allow us to have a lot of cost savings to the US health infrastructure."
More clinical trials are needed before a universal flu vaccine comes to market. Turley estimates it could take at least a decade.