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21 Jan 2019

Breakthrough in influenza B immunity

Doherty Institute researchers have discovered novel antibodies that target influenza B and could be used to inform strategies that increase seasonal influenza vaccine effectiveness, published today in Nature Communications.

Influenza B immunology is an understudied area in influenza research, however it still is responsible for a large burden of disease that can lead to death, particularly in children.

One obstacle of researching influenza B is the lack of antibodies available to study the virus, so Dr Adam Wheatley, Dr Hyon-Xhi Tan and Yi Liu from Professor Stephen Kent's laboratory at the Doherty Institute developed a suite of monoclonal antibodies they could use to see how the immune system mounts a response to influenza B.

Using blood samples from people who have received the seasonal influenza vaccine, the team genetically sequenced B cells identified in the samples to create the monoclonal antibodies.

“The antibodies were then characterized by being injected into mice, we looked at how it offered protection against an influenza B infection,” Dr Tan explained.

“Now we have this suite of antibodies, we have a tool that was previously unavailable that could be used for future vaccine strategies, to design a vaccine that induces the right type of antibodies making it more effective.”

In addition to the development of the suite of antibodies, they found some of them are cross-reactive across two main strains of influenza B. This raises the possibility of improving seasonal flu vaccines by reducing the number of components required, thus reducing costs in development and production, while still maintaining effectiveness.

This research was in collaboration with Professor Katherine Kedzierska and Associate Professor Aeron Hurt's laboratories at the Doherty Institute.