Science AMA Series: I’m Professor Dave Topham, at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York. My lab is working closely with the National Institutes of Health and scientists across the country to create a universal flu vaccine. AMA!
Hi Reddit! I’m Dave Topham and I’m a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. I’m also a member of the Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology and director of the New York Influenza Center of Excellence – one of five centers established by the National Institutes of Health to protect people against seasonal flu and future flu pandemics.
My lab, along with many others around the world, is pursuing a “universal” flu vaccine, one that would protect against most or all seasonal and pandemic strains of the flu virus. One of the most promising strategies is creating a vaccine that targets the “stalk” of a protein that covers the flu virus. It’s believed that the stalk stays relatively constant from one strain of flu to another. Directing a vaccine and the body’s immune response towards the stalk is a seemingly logical strategy for creating a shot that would provide broad protection.
In a study published in November in Scientific Reports we found that this strategy is a strong one, but isn’t completely bulletproof. We showed that the stalk can change under pressure from the immune system, although not as easily or frequently as other parts of the virus. The finding that it’s difficult, but not impossible to drive mutations in the stalk should be taken into account as we move forward with research and development.
I’m here to answer questions about universal flu vaccines, including the critical scientific questions that must be addressed to accelerate this research. I’ll start answering questions at 2 p.m. EST. AMA!