UT researchers discover new flu vaccine antibodies


A team of researchers at UT discovered a new class of antibodies that could be used to create a better flu vaccine.
Photo Credit: Jesús Nazario | Daily Texan Staff

A team of researchers at UT discovered a new class of antibodies that can protect against a wide range of virus strains while studying the influenza vaccine.

The discovery of the new antibodies provides information that could potentially be used to redesign the influenza vaccine to better elicit these types of antibodies. The research also showed that the trivalent vaccine, which protects against three strains of the flu virus, is good at generating antibodies also produced by the quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against four strains of the flu virus.

Jiwon Lee, a chemical engineering doctoral student, helped lead and design the study. Lee said the team developed new technology that played a major role in the research.

“Characterizing what type of antibodies are generated by the vaccine is really important for understanding the vaccine response,” Lee said. “We developed a tool that allows us to directly analyze the antibodies from blood.”

The study was led by multiple institutes and included a team of researchers from UT, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, the University of Georgia, the National Institutes of Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

Nutrition senior Carla Cos said she gets the flu vaccination regularly and has never had the flu.

“Getting vaccinated is a very easy way to prevent the flu,” Cos said. “If there’s an easy way to prevent a terrible experience, then of course I’m going to take those measures to protect myself.”

Vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The imitated infection does not cause illness but instead generates antibodies to help protect the body from the virus in the future.

Computer science senior Josh Montgomery said he had the flu when he was younger even though he had been vaccinated.

“The flu shot is not a guarantee that you will not get the flu,” Montgomery said. “It’s important that research continues to be done because it still poses a very real danger, and since the virus changes every year, the vaccine needs to change accordingly.”

The type of flu vaccine currently recommended by the CDC is the quadrivalent influenza vaccine. However, the discoveries made by this study suggest the value of trivalent influenza vaccines.

“The flu vaccine is the only preventative method that we have available that works,” Lee said. “We are not saying that the quadrivalent vaccine is not necessary, but want to emphasize rather that the trivalent vaccine is very good.”