Researchers are hoping that new technology may allow them to produce an influenza vaccination that can last a lifetime, eliminating the need for annual flu shots.
For the first time in infectious disease research, a vaccine against the flu has been made out of messenger RNA (mRNA), the genetic material that controls the production of proteins. Unlike previous flu shots, the new vaccine may be able to stand up over time as well as be made fast enough to stop a pandemic in its tracks.
One of the challenges with flu shots is that the viruses constantly evolve, so a person’s immunity to one year’s strain does not extend to the next year. Researchers have to guess which strains will be most prevalent during the flu season – and they have to make those guesses early. The standard flu vaccine takes about six months to develop. If scientists predict incorrectly, a new flu virus can cause a pandemic.
However, the mRNA can be mass-produced in a matter of weeks. It also can be turned into a freeze-dried powder that does not need refrigeration.
Similar vaccines have been made using DNA that codes for flu proteins, but these types of vaccines raise concerns with some that they will be incorporated into human DNA and disrupt gene regulation. This is not a concern with mRNA. However, trials on RNA vaccines have failed because they have been destroyed quickly in the blood. Newer technology has allowed scientists to protect mRNA so that it holds up better in the blood.
Not only is an mRNA flu vaccine in the works, but mRNA vaccines for protecting against prostate and lung cancers are currently in human trials.
Source: New Scientist