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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - North Texas researchers are on the brink of revolutionizing the way we fight the flu.
Every year, scientists try to guess which strain of the flu will cause the most people to get sick. They use that particular flu bug to make a flu vaccine. But what if you could get one shot that would tackle every single type of flu?
Dena Rushing from Little Elm has not had the flu in years. “Overall, we’re a very healthy family, and very active,” she said. But it is not because she gets the flu shot. She used to get it, but said that she would always get sick. “I can’t remember a year I didn’t, and then I stopped taking it and I stopped getting the flu.”
Rushing believes that the inactive virus – which makes up the shot – is what is responsible for making her sick. Most doctors say that is not the case. But for her, experience speaks volumes. “We haven’t got it and we haven’t got the flu,” Rushing said.
Now, researchers in North Texas say that this fear could soon become a thing of the past.
“We are in the front line of discovery,” said Dr. Beatrice Fontoura. She and her team at UT Southwestern have discovered a compound that works to fight multiple strains of the flu, including the deadly Spanish Flu that killed millions of people around the world in 1918.
“What we are doing is something different,” said Fontoura, explaining her research. “We are actually stimulating our own response which is already there – boost it – to fight an infection.”
The compound targets a specific protein called REDD-1, which is responsible for helping cells fight infection. The scientists discovered that when there is less REDD-1 protein in a cell, viruses like the flu can invade and corrupt the cell in a matter of hours. But when this compound is added, boosting the presence of the REDD-1 protein, the flu (no matter what strain) is held at bay. “We tested different strains — from less pathogenic strains to highly pathogenic strains,” Fontoura said, “and it worked.”
The current vaccine can often be ineffective, Fontoura said, if the flu virus mutates. This is why so many people who get a flu shot still get sick. However, this new compound would bypass that mutation, using your body – instead of the virus – to fight back.
“It’s very exciting. We’re all excited about it,” Fontoura said. “More is yet to come.”
The general public is still several years away from seeing this compound available at the local drug stores, Fontoura said, but she believes that this is the most promising step yet toward creating the ultimate weapon against the flu.