Will a four-minute educational video about a team of Air Force researchers investigating the H1N1 influenza virus go "viral" with middle- and high-school students? That is the hope of the U.S. Air Force as the nation prepares for the flu season and with new reports of significant flu activity in virtually all states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
In the Web video "Tracking the Flu," viewers meet a team of scientists at the Brooks City-Base Air Force Research Lab outside of San Antonio who test thousands of specimens that arrive from all over the world for the flu. Their experiments helped develop this year's seasonal and swine flu vaccine that is just starting to ship to states.
The three-minute video is the latest video installment or "webisode" in LabTV (www.labtvonline.org), a video-rich online resource that offers middle- and high-school students and teachers a look at the futuristic work conducted by nation's U.S. Department of Defense (Dod) research labs. The webisodes are designed to ignite imaginations and fuel students' curiosity in science and technology topics.
"The flu shot is currently the most effective way we have to prevent the illness. It actually tricks your body into thinking there has been a bit of an infection, and builds what are called the antibodies," said Linda Canas, a molecular biologist at Brooks City-Base states in the Webisode.
When the lab receives a sample, it gets divided into three areas: Molecular testing, tissue culture testing and the archiving. "The archive is very important because that is what's utilized for each year's vaccine," said Maj. Thomas Gibbons, PhD, a molecular biologist featured in the Webisode. "This year's current flu vaccine does contain a flu virus that was isolated in this laboratory."
As part of the tissue testing, Maj. Gibbons notes that, "We do a 'CSI'-investigation on that specimen to see if it has the same genetic fingerprint as the current vaccine." Those fingerprints keep changing so the vaccine needs to change each year. "What is cool about viruses, is how something that is so simple, take over us," added Maj. Gibbons.
Recently these scientists helped identify the new strain called influenza A H1N1, commonly known as the swine flu. The lab is working with people from all around the world to watch it very closely and their samples are helping to create a brand-new vaccine.
"Infectious diseases affect everyone in the world. To know that you can affect something that will prevent a disease is pretty awesome," said Canas.