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20 Feb, 2019 11:52

‘Extraordinary breakthrough’: Scientists make ‘Holy Grail’ universal flu vaccine discovery

‘Extraordinary breakthrough’: Scientists make ‘Holy Grail’ universal flu vaccine discovery

Australian scientists have discovered immune cells that can fight all known flu viruses and mutations in what has already been branded an “extraordinary breakthrough” which could lead to the creation of a universal vaccine.

Scientists at the Doherty Institute and Monash University studied 67,000 viral sequences and narrowed them down to three sequences which are common across all strains of the influenza virus, which haven’t mutated for the past century.

They then identified so-called “killer T cells” found in over half the world’s population, which act like the body’s own private security, identifying abnormalities and infections and killing them.

Harvesting and replicating these cells could lead to the production of an all-in-one flu shot which would only be administered once a decade or possibly once in a lifetime.

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The team has patented the discovery with a view to developing a universal flu vaccine “to reduce the impact of a pandemic and seasonal influenza around the world.”

The influenza virus is particularly dangerous for the elderly, children and those with compromised immune systems. Influenza epidemics kill between 250,000 and 500,000 people worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

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There’s just one slight hitch with medicine’s new ‘holy grail.’ It would only work for roughly half the world’s population based on current levels of "killer T cells." The team are already working to overcome this problem and make the future vaccine truly universal.

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