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UK bodies claim bird flu vaccine breakthrough

By Ed Bedington , 05-Dec-2012

UK-based researchers have claimed a serious breakthrough in the bid to tackle the problems associated with avian influenza.

The Pirbright Institute, working in conjunction with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, University of Oxford and the Jenner Institute, has claimed it has taken a vital step towards creating a vaccine to tackle the issue.

Avian influenza, or bird flu, is a major challenge to the global poultry sector, devastating production in areas like south and east Asia, as well as posing a serious threat to human health.

Publishing the research in the journal Vaccine, lead researcher Dr Colin Butter said: “Traditional avian flu vaccines are only effective against one particular type of flu, but we want to be able to protect birds and, ultimately, people against different subtypes, using just one vaccine. This research suggests that, in principle, a universal vaccine is possible.”

According to the team, the vaccine has been developed from a human flu virus to provoke an immune response in chickens, which can prevent multiple strains of flu. It is also hoped the vaccine will work towards reducing the spread of the virus within flocks.

Dr Butter added: “We’ve found that by using proteins that are very similar in all flu viruses and delivering them packaged inside another harmless virus, we can safely vaccinate into eggs while the chick is still developing and then give a booster injection after hatch. This seems to be effective in priming the chicken’s immune systems against a bird flu virus only distantly related to the human virus whose genes we used to make the vaccine.”

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