Georgia State researcher wins $3.26 million federal grant to develop universal flu vaccine

Influenza remains a major public health risk, and Dr. Baozhong Wang, associate professor in Georgia State University's Institute for Biomedical Sciences, has received a five-year, $3.26 million federal grant to combat this threat by developing a universal vaccine that offers more protection against influenza than seasonal vaccines.

Current seasonal flu vaccines are effective against closely matched influenza viruses in healthy adults, but they can't prevent outbreaks of epidemics and pandemics. They lack this ability because influenza is a virus that can mutate frequently, and zoonotic (animal) strains can jump from one species to another into humans.

A novel approach to fighting the flu is needed because there are several disadvantages of seasonal flu vaccines, including the need to produce new vaccines every season, uncertainty in selecting virus strains and compromised vaccine efficacy when viruses are mismatched. Universal flu vaccines will overcome these challenges."

Dr. Baozhong Wang, associate professor in Georgia State University's Institute for Biomedical Sciences

The funding from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will be used to develop a universal flu vaccine that induces broad cross-protection against influenza A and B viruses, which can cause epidemics in humans.

Wang will construct a multivalent layered nanocluster vaccine, meaning the vaccine can act against multiple influenza virus strains and has layered protein nanoparticles. The vaccine formulation will be composed of newly designed conserved antigenic proteins (molecules that can stimulate an immune response) from both influenza A and B, making it a universal influenza vaccine.

This project will test whether these layered nanoclusters or an optimal combination will induce broadly reactive immune responses and whether the immunity will grant cross-protection against both influenza A and B viruses in mice. The work will also test whether the leading multivalent nanocluster combinations will induce robust immune responses that provide cross-protection in ferrets.

With a previous grant, Wang produced double-layered nanoparticle vaccines from an interior part of influenza A virus' surface protein, called the hemagglutinin stalk, which is the same in all influenza viruses. The nanoparticles also contained the M2 protein, which is found on the surface of influenza A. Immunizations with the vaccine induced cross-protection against viruses from both groups of influenza A, including pandemic potential avian strains.

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