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New mRNA Influenza Vaccine - New Scientist
Influenza (flu) is infectious disorder induced by RNA viruses that belong to Orthomyxoviridae family. Three genera are associated with influenza disease in humans: Influenzavirus A, B and C. Flu is seasonal disorder, it reaches a peak in the winter. Being easily and highly spreadable, it often results in epidemics. Each year 3 to 5 million people get infected with influenza virus and between 250.000 and 500.000 cases end up fatally. Virus transmits trough bodily fluids, usually via coughing and sneezing (aerosol containing viral particles). People that are living or working in highly crowded spaces are at higher risk of developing disease due to close and often contacts with other individuals. Typical symptoms include chills, fever, muscle pain, sore throat, fatigue… It can lead to more severe disorder such as pneumonia. Worst case scenario is influenza pandemic: global spread of the virus ends up in mass infections. Several pandemic events were noted in 20th century. Most famous are Spanish flu in 1918 (with 50 million fatal cases), Asian flu in 1957 (between 1.5-2 million fatal cases) and Hong Kong flu in 1968 (1 million fatalities). In 2009, Swine flu triggered mass hysteria, but in reality, number of Swine flu fatalities didn't overcome typical seasonal flu mortality (~ 18.000 fatal cases).

Vaccination against flu is usual practice in most parts of the world and its popularity is growing each year. Idea behind flu vaccination is development of the "herd immunity": when 80% of people become immune against the virus - chances for further spreading are dropping down significantly. Vaccines are especially recommended for the sensitive group of people: children and elderly, immune-compromised and people with asthma, diabetes… Why flu and vaccinations against it are so important? Disease that spreads quickly and infects all age groups, result in less people available for work and hospitals full of elderly people that are treated longer than healthier (younger) groups of people. If 600.000 people die, 3 million people end up hospitalized and 30 million patients came to a hospital for a short visit, medical industry will have direct lost of ~10 billion dollars. Other institutions are affected by the seasonal flu also. Center for Disease Control and Prevention calculated that children in the USA missed 38.000 days in schools due to influenza. Influenza associated annual costs overcome 80 billion dollars. All this reasons accelerate vaccine industry and stimulate various experiments that could ensure novel, more efficient vaccination methods.

Influenza viruses are highly variable and each year new vaccine needs to develop. Typically, vaccine preparation will be guided by the seasonal viral strains (H1N1, H3N2, and B strain) recommended by WHO (World Health Organization). Most commonly, virus will be grown in the hen's egg. It takes around six months for vaccine to “mature”. Later, it will be mixed with other ingredients resulting in final vaccine. Cells in a culture could be used instead of an egg, but this is a long lasting process (several months). Latest improvement in the field of vaccine manufacturing could result in safer (egg allergy is prevented) and faster vaccines production (6 weeks in total).

mRNA is small molecule essential for genetic expression. It carries information about building protein from DNA to ribosome. If mRNA molecule is reprogrammed to induce synthesis of specific immune protein, desired immune response could be achieved. mRNA based vaccines are already used in carcinoma immunotherapy. They are applied intradermally; balanced immune response is achieved by targeted expression of immunoproteins that provide strong anti-tumor effect. Vaccination can be scheduled to fit the clinical situation. For the first time, mRNA vaccine for influenza treatment is designed. mRNA vaccine elicit predictive (B and T-cell dependent) immune response against influenza virus. Scientific team tested newly created mRNA vaccine against H1N1pdm09, swine flu and the H5N1 bird flu and so far - it proved to be effective against all of them. Vaccine could be manufactured easily in just a couple of weeks. It doesn’t have to be stored in refrigerator and tests in animals showed that is equally effective in old and young animals (tested in mice). Besides test on mice, vaccine proved to be safe and effective in ferrets and pigs.

Next step will be testing of safety/efficacy in humans. If it proves to be effective, mRNA vaccine could easily become a standard in future influenza vaccination programs. Personally, I believe that much better and safer way to boost immune system could be accomplished through regular sport and healthy diet and that is my favorite "vaccine". :-)

Reference: Lothar Stitz, Friedrich-Loeffler Institute in Riems Island, Germany
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New mRNA Influenza Vaccine - New Scientist00