T-cell vaccine demonstrates universal potential in small flu trial

A research team in the UK has stirred a considerable amount of buzz with a tiny but promising human trial of a new T-cell vaccine that could offer some universal relief from the flu bug. By amping up the number of T-cells--which attack infected cells--investigators say that their vaccine was able to protect people injected with a strain of the flu. And now they plan to expand their trial work to a field study that can test the vaccine in thousands of people.

"This is the first time anyone's tested if you can boost somebody's T-cell response to flu and, having done that, if it helps protect against getting flu," Oxford's Sarah Gilbert tells the Guardian. "It's the first time anybody's done that in people."

"We did get an indication that the vaccine was protecting people, not only from the numbers of people who got flu but also from looking at their T-cells before we gave them flu. The people we vaccinated had T-cells that were more activated. The people we hadn't vaccinated had T-cells as well but they were in a resting state so they would probably have taken longer to do anything. The volunteers we vaccinated had T-cells that were activated, primed and ready to kill. There were more T-cells in people we vaccinated and they were more activated."

A universal flu vaccine is one of the Holy Grails of vaccine research today. Every year researchers try to develop a new flu vaccine that can guard people against what are likely to be the dominant strains in circulation during the flu season. And there's a constant threat that a novel virus will trigger a pandemic, similar to the swine flu outbreak. If a single vaccine can guard against all strains, vaccination campaigns can tackle broad populations with a single jab. That will radically reduce the expense of fighting flu while preventing the widespread misery associated with an outbreak.

- here's the feature from the Guardian