Ninety years after the sweeping destruction of the 1918 flu pandemic, researchers at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt have recovered antibodies to the virus from elderly survivors of the original outbreak. In addition to revealing the surprisingly long-lasting immunity to such viruses, these antibodies could be effective treatments if another virus similar to the 1918 flu breaks out in the future.
The study, led by James Crowe Jr., MD, professor of Pediatrics and director of the Vanderbilt Program in Vaccine Sciences, Christopher Basler, Ph.D., at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Eric Altschuler, MD, PhD, at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, is published online in the journal Nature.
The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed nearly 50 million people worldwide, many of whom were young, healthy adults. With fears of another looming flu pandemic stoked by the emergence of “bird flu” in Asia, researchers have wanted to study the 1918 virus and the immune response to it.
The researchers collected blood samples from 32 survivors aged 91-101 years and found that all reacted to the 1918 virus, suggesting that they still possessed antibodies to the virus.
Crowe’s team was then isolated rare B cells–the immune cells that produce antibodies–from eight of those samples and grew them in culture. Seven of those samples produced antibodies to a 1918 virus protein, suggesting that their immune systems were waiting on standby for a long-awaited second outbreak.
Crowe’s team then fused cells showing the highest levels of activity against the virus with “immortal” cells to create a cell line that secretes monoclonal (or identical) antibodies to the 1918 flu. The antibodies reacted strongly to the 1918 virus and cross-reacted with proteins from the related 1930 swine flu but not to more modern flu strains.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention infected mice with the 1918 flu and then administered the antibodies at varying doses. Mice receiving the lowest dose of 1918 antibody, and those receiving a non-reactive control antibody, died. All mice given the highest doses of 1918 antibodies survived.
Release date: August 17, 2008
Source: Vanderbilt Medical Center
Filed Under: Drug Discovery