Page URL:

Gene therapy against flu tested in animals

3 June 2013
Appeared in BioNews 707

A gene therapy technique can protect mammals from lethal strains of influenza, a study suggests.

In the research, published in Science Translational Medicine, delivering a gene into the nasal passages of animals provided protection against many strains of flu. The gene expresses an antibody that was shown to prevent the animals from developing the flu when exposed to the virus.

If the technique is shown to be safe and effective in humans, this approach could be used to protect people in the event of a flu pandemic. It may also help to ward off viruses that originate in animals but can be spread to humans.

Dr James Wilson, who led the study, said: 'The experiments described in our paper provide critical proof-of-concept in animals about a technology platform that can be deployed in the setting of virtually any pandemic or biological attack for which a neutralising antibody exists or can be easily isolated'.

The team, from the University of Pennsylvania, used a virus vector to deliver the gene to cells lining the noses of mice and ferrets. These animals were exposed to lethal doses of the H1N1 strains responsible for the 1918 and 2009 pandemics, as well the highly pathogenic avian H5N1 strain that scientists fear could cause a pandemic in the future (reported in BioNews 662).

Treatment gave mice complete protection and reduced virus replication considerably. The approach was also effective in ferrets, which are a more authentic model of human flu infection.

Currently, the most effective method of combating flu infection is vaccination. However, vaccine production is a time-consuming process and the delay in creating and distributing a vaccine for a novel pandemic strain could have devastating consequences.

Wilson's approach of rapidly establishing protection against a wide range of flu strains may be a useful alternative. 'The technology isn't trying to stimulate the immune system to generate antibodies ', Dr Wilson told the Wall Street Journal. 'It simply engineers the cells to make antibodies'.

However, unlike vaccination, where the body's immune system retains the ability to produce antibodies for many years, antibody production has so far only lasted for about three months. The team are now investigating how antibody production can be maintained for six months.

Gene Therapy ... Against the Flu?
ScienceNOW |  29 May 2013
Gene therapy is 'new weapon' in fight against flu
Channel4 |  29 May 2013
Gene Therapy Shields Against Deadly Flu
Wall Street Journal (subscription required) |  29 May 2013
Intranasal Antibody Gene Transfer in Mice and Ferrets Elicits Broad Protection Against Pandemic Influenza
Science Translational Medicine |  29 May 2013
New Gene Therapy Shows Broad Protection in Animal Models to Pandemic Flu Strains, including the Deadly 1918 Spanish Influenza
Penn Medicine (press release) |  29 May 2013
14 September 2015 - by Dr Charlotte Warren-Gash 
A key gene that governs the severity of influenza infections has been identified...
8 December 2014 - by Fiona Ibanichuka 
The US Centers for Disease Control has released a health advisory warning clinicians that flu vaccines will have diminished effectiveness against one strain currently circulating in the US as it has mutated to become resistant...
16 December 2013 - by Dr Rachel Montgomery 
Gene therapy trials using engineered immune cells have shown considerable progress in treating blood disorders, according to findings presented at the American Society of Hematology's annual meeting...
12 August 2013 - by Lanay Tierney 
Two scientists behind a controversial H5N1 avian flu publication last year, which deliberately modified the virus to become more transmissible to humans, hope to perform similar experiments on a new flu strain...
22 July 2013 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
A test which looks at how active different genes are could help doctors determine whether a patient has a viral or bacterial infection...
15 April 2013 - by David O'Rourke 
Synthetic biology is being used in the hunt for a vaccine for H7N9, the new strain of bird flu emerging in China, with hopes it could shave a vital two weeks off the development process...
4 February 2013 - by Matthew Thomas 
A genetic variant frequently found in Chinese populations may explain why severe complications from swine flu are more common in China. The discovery may also have implications for other influenza virus strains and help scientists understand why flu outbreaks hit some populations harder than others....
25 June 2012 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Controversial research showing how the H5N1 'bird flu' virus can be altered to make it transmissible between mammals through the air has been published, nine months after it was first presented at a conference....
2 April 2012 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
Differences in the severity of people's flu symptoms may be due to a genetic variant, according to scientists...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.