Research into protecting children globally from the influenza virus has been given a US$449,156 boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr Thushan de Silva, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, will assess whether giving children current seasonal live attenuated influenza vaccines (LAIV) before being naturally exposed to the virus, enables them to generate antibodies to protect against many different strains of the flu.
Dr de Silva said: “There is increasing evidence that the first encounters we have with the influenza virus as a child can shape how susceptible we are to different influenza viruses throughout life.
“If we can find out if vaccinating young children before they are exposed can provide broader and longer-term immunity, it would open up new avenues to repurpose current seasonal vaccines within a broader universal influenza vaccine strategy and significantly advance the timeline to achieving this.”
Dr de Silva works with the Medical Research Unit, The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where his recent research demonstrated the importance of vaccine strain selection to ensure a robust immune response to LIAV. This will form the basis for the new project funded by the foundation.
The project team will also partner closely with Florian Krammer, PhD, Professor of Microbiology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and co-director of the Mount Sinai-Emory Multi-Institutional Vaccine Center in New York, who established state-of-the-art methods to characterise immune responses to the influenza virus.
“The project has the potential to be incredibly significant to countries where the burden of influenza contributes to some of the highest preventable death-rates in children globally, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa¹, which don’t have the resources to provide country-wide seasonal flu vaccination programmes,” Dr de Silva added.
“These countries are therefore most vulnerable in the event of future influenza pandemics, so developing universal influenza vaccine strategies is applicable the world over, but especially to such countries.”
He added: “We are really excited to receive the grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and have the opportunity to partner with one of the leading influenza laboratories in the world. This will complement our field and laboratory studies in The Gambia, as part of our collective efforts to develop universal influenza virus vaccine strategies.”
Francesco Berlanda-Scorza from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “We look forward to working with Dr de Silva and his collaborators. This important research project will focus on elucidating the different immunological responses to live attenuated vaccines, particularly early in life, in children who have already experienced influenza infections and those who haven’t. This initiative fits within our broader interest to develop a universal influenza vaccine, aiming to reduce the burden of future pandemic outbreaks in developing countries.”