The Aussie 'Super Vaccine' That Could Save Millions Of Lives
A new 'super vaccine' fighting both flu and pneumococcal diseases could save millions of lives in years to come.
Scientists from the University of Adelaide's Research Centre for Infectious Diseases are in the early stages of developing a single vaccine that protects against all forms of influenza and pnemococcal conditions.
Flu is a common cause of pneumonococcal diseases -- which, besides pneumonia, include ear and sinus infections, meningitis, and blood stream infections.
Younger children, the elderly, and pregnant women are all particularly susceptible to pneumonia, which causes the air sacs of the lungs to fill with pus and other liquids, blocking oxygen from reaching the blood stream.
Pneumonia is an extreme public health concern worldwide, and the single leading cause of death in children worldwide. It kills approximately 1.4 million children under five every year.
A future flu pandemic, and the pneumonia it causes, could claim millions of lives; so the mutation of these diseases is a terrifying prospect for health authorities.
H5N1 -- bird flu -- is a particular threat for pandemic, according to the CDC, because of its constant mutations and repeated interaction with humans.
The 1918 Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people worldwide in just one year.
In a paper published in Nature Microbiology, the researchers found that flu doesn't simply lead to pneumonia infection but rather, the diseases have a deadly synergy.
Doctor Mohammed Alsharifi, a biomedical science researcher from the University of Adelaide and one of the paper's authors, told 10 daily that the two diseases are "working with each other" and this relationship can be exploited to develop their 'super vaccine'.
Here's how they did it.
While there are current vaccines available to protect against both diseases -- and you may have experienced the protective benefits of the flu shot -- neither provide full coverage against all forms.
Alsharifi has developed a world-first flu vaccine that isn't affected by seasonal mutations. He worked with Professor James Paton, who has lead a team that protects against all types of pneumococcal infections -- there are 98 different forms, and current vaccines only protect against 13.
From there, it was simply a matter of combining the two types of research.
Alsharifi said this worked despite an "old immunology dogma that you shouldn't mix vaccines".
"We mixed the two and found the vaccines are helping each other and enhancing each other," he said.
Using these two full-coverage vaccines in tandem showed a heightened T-cell activity that is integral to immune response.
Alsharifi said this will be an important first-line response against potential flu pandemics, as well as a guard against normal flu seasons.
South Australia's 2019 flu season has claimed 27 lives so far, making it the worst year on modern records for the state.
What happens now?
Neither the universal flu vaccine or the universal pneumococcal vaccine have been trialled in humans yet -- although Alsharifi is confident they will be safe and successful based on previous laboratory results.
For now, the University of Adelaide team will be working on trialling each, then combining them into a single shot. This process will take at least five years.
However, Alsharifi is optimistic about this process, and believes their 'super vaccine' could prevent a great deal of suffering and death in the future.
"In the long run we'll save millions of lives, not thousands," Alsharifi said.