SEATTLE -- Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a DNA vaccine they believe could last for years and supplement the flu shot.
"This is a new concept in flu vaccines, it's going to be the new wave of vaccines, the ‘Universal Flu Vaccine’, it's our future coming down the line," said Deborah Fuller, UW Professor and Lead Flu Researcher.
Fuller said her team at the University of Washington's Department of Microbiology have been working on the vaccine's development for more than 10 years.
Their findings were just published last month in PLOS ONE.
Fuller said the DNA vaccine begins by tackling the flu's biggest challenge - mutation.
The flu can outsmart a flu shot, that's because the virus's genes are constantly changing or mutating.
Fuller said flu shots typically are 40 to 60 percent effective from year to year.
Scientists have to guess what the flu will look like, typically nine months before flu season - and sometimes scientists guess wrong.
"Now and then they get that wrong, and there is a mix match like there is a little bit this year, and the vaccine is a little less effective than what it would be if it was a complete match," Fuller said.
The new ‘universal’ vaccine isolates genetic components of the flu virus that do not mutate or change from year to year to teach the body to recognize and attack it.
The UW research team also developed a way to deliver the DNA.
They designed and produced a 'Gene Gun', which releases a painless puff-like injection of DNA into the skin, which goes directly into the skin cells. They’re working on a prototype for clinical settings.
Once injected, those cells and DNA create the ‘universal’ vaccine in a patient's body, instead of a petri dish.
The body creates the antibodies to fight back.
"Your own skin cells end up producing these antigens and stimulate the immune responses," Fuller said.
She said testing on primates revealed 100 percent protection against previous circulating influenza virus.
When the team introduced a new flu strain, the ‘universal’ vaccine induced an immune response too.
Fuller called it a new direction of vaccine research.
She believes the ‘universal’ vaccine could eventually eliminate the need for yearly flu vaccinations.
Fuller said once a genetic code for a pathogen is known, scientists could design and produce a ‘universal’ vaccine in three months.
She believes the vaccine would be useful should a deadly pandemic strain of the virus emerge.
The ‘universal’ vaccine needs more testing, including human clinical trials.
The team hopes it could hit the market within 10 years.