Research on influenza includes studies on molecular virology, how the virus produces disease (pathogenesis), host immune responses, viral genomics, and how the virus spreads (epidemiology).
These studies help in developing influenza countermeasures; for example, a better understanding of the body's immune system response helps vaccine development, and a detailed picture of how influenza invades cells aids the development of antiviral drugs.
One important basic research program is the Influenza Genome Sequencing Project, which is creating a library of influenza sequences; this library should help clarify which factors make one strain more lethal than another, which genes most affect immunogenicity, and how the virus evolves over time.
Research into new vaccines is particularly important, as current vaccines are very slow and expensive to produce and must be reformulated every year.
The sequencing of the influenza genome and recombinant DNA technology may accelerate the generation of new vaccine strains by allowing scientists to substitute new antigens into a previously developed vaccine strain.
New technologies are also being developed to grow viruses in cell culture, which promises higher yields, less cost, better quality and surge capacity.
Research on a universal influenza A vaccine, targeted against the external domain of the transmembrane viral M2 protein (M2e), is being done at the University of Ghent by Walter Fiers, Xavier Saelens and their team and has now successfully concluded Phase I clinical trials.
A number of biologics, therapeutic vaccines and immunobiologics are also being investigated for treatment of infection caused by viruses.
Therapeutic biologics are designed to activate the immune response to virus or antigens. Typically, biologics do not target metabolic pathways like anti-viral drugs, but stimulate immune cells such as lymphocytes, macrophages, and/or antigen presenting cells, in an effort to drive an immune response towards a cytotoxic effect against the virus.
Influenza models, such as murine influenza, are convenient models to test the effects of prophylactic and therapeutic biologics. For example, Lymphocyte T-Cell Immune Modulator inhibits viral growth in the murine model of influenza.
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