Swiss researchers identify potential alternative to flu vaccination

The new treatment could also help children and the elderly better tolerate the effects of vaccines. Keystone / Jose Luis Magana

Scientists at the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) have discovered a molecule capable of recognising multiple variants of the influenza virus and triggering the correct immune response in patients. 

This content was published on July 29, 2019 - 17:00

The influenza virus is able to mutate over time and escape the body’s immune response. As a result, vaccines against the seasonal flu have to be reformulated every year.  

Scientists at the Biomedicine Research Institute at the USI, have found a way to help the immune system detect and destroy new flu variants. They have identified a molecule called SIGN-R1, which recognises variants of the virus and can therefore direct the immune system's response to eliminate them. SIGN-R1 is also able to bind to other respiratory pathogens such as pneumococcal bacteria that cause a range of diseases like pneumonia and meningitis. 

These results of the study – done in collaboration with University of Toulouse (France), Harvard Medical School (Boston) and Mount Sinai School of Medicine (New York) – could pave the way for research into alternative therapies to vaccination, based on molecules of the same family as SIGN-R1, according to the authors. 

These treatments could be used on patients already infected and for whom vaccination is not effective. They could also help children and the elderly better tolerate the effects of vaccines. The results of the study have been published in the journal Nature Microbiology. 

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