Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Virus-Like Particles May Mean Speedier Flu Vaccines

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the just-the-dna-ma'am dept.

Biotech 80

We've been talking a lot lately about flu vaccines. Now an anonymous reader sends us to a Technology Review piece on two human trials involving so-called virus-like particle vaccines, which promise to be much faster to churn out than traditional vaccines. (Here's a single-page version but without the useful illustration.) VLP vaccines use a protein shell, grown in either plant or insect cells, that look just like real viruses to the body's immune system but that contain no influenza RNA genetic material. A company called Medicago grows its VLPs in transgenic tobacco plants, while another called Novavax uses "immortalized" cells taken from caterpillars. Providing they pass safety muster, both techniques should be able to produce an influenza vaccine more quickly than current methods, using just the DNA of the virus.

cancel ×

80 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Typical big media... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29846361)

It's just like big media, which Slashdot is part of, to ignore the REAL story in the story

"immortalized" cells taken from caterpillars.

You guys are running around producing Immortal caterpillars and noone let me know? Bastards!

Re:Typical big media... (2, Funny)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846447)

You guys are running around producing Immortal caterpillars and noone let me know? Bastards!

Well, I, for one, welcome...

Sorry. Just couldn't do it.

Here are the problems with immortal caterpillars... If they behead eachother, do they gain in strength? Do they ever turn into moths/butterflies, or do they maintain immortality by staying in caterpillar form?

I mean seriously, you're a caterpillar, and you're immortal. Do you forsake immortality by spinning a chrysalis just so so you can have sex, live for a few weeks, and then die?

These are the questions that keep me up at night (and coincidentally, prevent me from having sex while NOT providing any form of immortality).

Re:Typical big media... (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846931)

I mean seriously, you're a caterpillar, and you're immortal

Trust me, Immortality isn't any fun when you live in a glass jar with small air holes punched in its lid...

Re:Typical big media... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847527)

Here are the problems with immortal caterpillars... If they behead eachother, do they gain in strength? Do they ever turn into moths/butterflies, or do they maintain immortality by staying in caterpillar form?

So... we're not talking about the bulldozers? [cat.com] Well consider ME dissapointed. My bulldozer breaks down WAY too much.

Re:Typical big media... (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847341)

You guys are running around producing Immortal caterpillars and noone let me know? Bastards!

I can't wait for the final showdown where they fight with tiny little katanas and broadswords. It's going to be really tough on the little guys because it's hard to tell if you just cut off your opponent's head or only gave him a free Brazilian Butt Lift... There can be only one.

Mod parent up Funny. (1)

mail2345 (1201389) | more than 4 years ago | (#29848157)

It's a joke. I guess it looks like a troll when abbreviated, but really, you should read the entire comment before modding.

Re:Typical big media... (1)

Convector (897502) | more than 4 years ago | (#29849343)

The goal is to make a Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Flu !DNA (3, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846387)

Providing they pass safety muster, both techniques should be able to produce an influenza vaccine more quickly than current methods, using just the DNA of the virus.

Sorry to nitpick, but influenza is an RNA virus, not a DNA virus.

I have no clue if this makes a difference in how quickly a vaccine could be made using this technique, but I just needed to get the "Friday Pedantry" out of the way.

Re:Flu !DNA (2, Interesting)

sumthinboutjesus (984845) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846449)

Good catch on the RNA vs. DNA. However, this would not effect how quickly a vaccine could be made with this technique nor its efficacy, as it is just training the plasma cells to recognize a folded conformation and produce antibodies to bind that 3d conformation, allowing the immune system to clear it after the virus is bound (opsonized).

Re:Flu !DNA (1)

bmoviegeek (1662931) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846643)

This actually could affect the speed of how quickly the vaccine is made, as more work would be need to done to get the viral genomic information from an RNA virus into a form that could be stably transfected into a cell. Most expression vectors would require a complementary DNA expression cassette for the genome of RNA viruses, which would need to be generated in a lab. Admittedly this would not add on a large amount of time, but still more time would be needed to make a vaccine from an RNA virus versus a DNA virus.

Re:Flu !DNA (2, Informative)

RDW (41497) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847173)

For standard flu vaccines, the speed of production depends on quite a few steps, some of which can be carried out in parallel (e.g. clinical trials can start before all batches are made), while others need to be done in series (e.g. bulk production can't start until growth conditions are optimised):

http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/notes/h1n1_vaccine_20090806/en/index.html [who.int]

One advantage of the VLP approach is that you can produce the relevant proteins in standard biotech 'factory' organisms, which avoids the laborious and time-consuming process of culturing live virus in hens' eggs. Reverse-transcribing the viral RNA is no big deal - this happens in the initial phase of characterising a new virus in any case (for sequencing etc.) long before vaccine production begins.

Re:Flu !DNA (1)

Schickeneder (1454639) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847303)

Just use some reverse transcriptase--it's super fast! I'd imagine that would add a trivial amount of time relative to processing time necessary to produce and collect these VLPs in sufficient quantities to bring a vaccine to market. Perhaps that's what you had in mind.

Re:Flu !DNA (1)

bmoviegeek (1662931) | more than 4 years ago | (#29848967)

No, I meant that the reverse transcriptase process is an extra step that adds time. I agree that this amount of time may be short, but certainly not trivial. Compared to a DNA virus extra steps, and therefore time, is still required when generating the initial expression vector for an RNA virus. Since we are considering the amount of time it takes to generate a new vaccine for a new strain of flu (and not the generation of additional VLPs from cassettes already incorporated into an expression vector), any extra steps could potentially end up being giant time sinks in the event a key step in the process goes awry. This is why I feel you should not discount the reverse transcriptase event, or really any single step along the way, as trivial.

Re:Flu !DNA (1)

sanosuke001 (640243) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846465)

Don't feel bad; I came here to say the exact same thing.

Re:Flu !DNA (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29846553)

Although influenza is an RNA virus, researchers are probably generating a cDNA library of the flu structural proteins and using these DNA templates to transfect their cellular expression systems, resulting in the production of the virus-like particles. This may be the source of confusion in the summary above.

Re:Flu !DNA (1)

crmarvin42 (652893) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846721)

You may be an AC, but you are correct. It is fairly simple to create cDNA librarys of the viral RNA genome. One benefit of cDNA libararies over working with the viral RNA directly is stability. You still need to be fanatical about avoiding contamination of your samples, but DNA is more stable.

Re:Flu !DNA (1)

Jon-1 (470969) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846937)

While you're correct in your analysis of the statement, you're incorrect in regards to the technology. Yes, flu is an RNA virus but the manipulations of the genes that are expressed on the VLP - is all done with DNA. I'm guessing they clone the gene into their expression platform and the cell lines do all the work to put it together.

Now the big challenge is to prevent the patient from developing anit-vector immunity so that they can use the VLP delivery system again against different targets.

no vector in vaccine (1)

nietsch (112711) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847945)

Most(all?) viral enveloppes are self assembling and do not need to be hybridised with the vector on a protein level. You just have to make sure your env proteins are expressed trough the vector, so you end up with infected cells bursting with empty shells (as not viral content is produced). You could still have some vector particles in the raw yield, but you need to purify it anyway. Lastly, what negative effects would you expect from an immune reaction to either a plant or insect virus? On the contrary, most vaccines employ adjuvants to make the immune response stronger, so contamination with vector particles would probably not reduce the efficiency of the vaccine.

Re:Flu !DNA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29858101)

Providing they pass safety muster, both techniques should be able to produce an influenza vaccine more quickly than current methods, using just the DNA of the virus.

Sorry to nitpick, but influenza is an RNA virus, not a DNA virus.

I have no clue if this makes a difference in how quickly a vaccine could be made using this technique, but I just needed to get the "Friday Pedantry" out of the way.

Watch the truth about H1N! Here

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Up2LPtZAbg&feature=video_responseInteresting

Goatse! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29846391)

Dr. Goatse probably has lotsa virii, yo!

vaccine manufacturers caught with pants down (1)

sumthinboutjesus (984845) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846401)

As a future healthcare provider, I certainly hope that vaccines like these will be proven safe and effective. Their promise lies in the ability for the production of vaccines against the dominant strains in a much quicker manner. If we had these methods approved for the current flu season, the industry wouldn't have been caught with its pants down when the H1N1 strain became dominant and hit much more quickly than planned. The vaccines were targeted to be ready for about a month or two from now, and the virus has hit much harder much sooner than anticipated. If these techniques take off, hopefully this situation can be mostly avoided in the future.

Re:vaccine manufacturers caught with pants down (1)

bmoviegeek (1662931) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846881)

Agreed, but there are some barriers in the way of ever getting this type of vaccine approved. Most likely these virus-like particles are being expressed by some sort of transformed (cancerous) cell line. Given that this is so, there are some safety issues involved with injecting test subjects with potentially carcinogenic material. They will likely need to find a new way of expressing these particles if they ever hope to use them clinically.

A new method of vaccine delivery? (1)

Tsar (536185) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846405)

A company called Medicago grows its VLPs in transgenic tobacco plants...

So tomorrow's vaccines can be administered by cigarette?

Re:A new method of vaccine delivery? (2, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846521)

So tomorrow's vaccines can be administered by cigarette?

The tobacco industry must be just jizzing about this.

WARNING: The Surgeon General has determined that NOT smoking this pack of Joe Camel the Flu Slayer(TM) may be hazardous to your health.

I'm surprisde no one's done this before (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846413)

since antibodies react to proteins or other structures and not the RNA/DNA. Maybe profits on vaccines aren't really there?

Re:I'm surprisde no one's done this before (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846541)

Maybe profits on vaccines aren't really there?

At least, 'investors' think so, resulting in rising stock prices [timesonline.co.uk] .

CC.

Re:I'm surprisde no one's done this before (3, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846693)

since antibodies react to proteins or other structures and not the RNA/DNA. Maybe profits on vaccines aren't really there?

Or, alternatively, they've been trying for a long time without success. FTFA:

VLPs have been an around-the-corner promise for over 20 years. But they've now reached a stage at which even disinterested observers believe, as Columbia University virologist Vincent Racaniello put it, that VLP vaccines "really seem to be coming into their own."

But don't roll up your sleeve just yet. Sounds a lot like holographic storage, Duke Nukem Forever, better batteries, flying cars, jet packs, sensible women.

I wonder... (1)

ShadowXOmega (808299) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846417)

Im not a Genetist (INAG), so my question may sound dull or obvious...

but, the virus dna in the vaccine really dont have any function?...

i think the shell only aproach may trigger a immediate response (much like an allergy), but im not sure about the long term protection...

cant a virus use 2 or more diferent kinds of shells?, that is, same virus(or very similar) with widly diferent protein shells?

Re:I wonder... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846609)

i think the shell only aproach may trigger a immediate response (much like an allergy), but im not sure about the long term protection...

The outer shell is the primary approach the body uses to recognize viruses. As far as I know, it's the only way other than filtering out small particles in general, which can be tricky and metabolically expensive because legitimate stuff can also be that size.

cant a virus use 2 or more diferent kinds of shells?, that is, same virus(or very similar) with widly diferent protein shells?

Mutating the outer shell is one of the key ways viruses use to survive and prosper. That's the main reason everybody gets sick during the flu season. Aids is especially tricky because it has a slimy or fluffy outer coat that is hard to analyze by the body's defenses.
   

Re:I wonder... (3, Informative)

crmarvin42 (652893) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846867)

This solution would probably require much higher doses than current vaccines do, but it would probably be safer and faster.

The flu at least is an RNA virus, but the function of the genetic material is for the replication of the virus after it has infected a cell. When it is not actively infecting a cell the DNA/RNA is completely dormant within the viral coat, thus the debate over whether viruses are alive or not. There is no metabolic activity in the absense of a host cell to infect.

The shell or viral coat is primarily what the immune system recognizes when fighting a viral infection. That is why killed vaccines work. They don't work as well as modified live vaccines (generally) because you don't get the first couple of generations of viral replication (at a slower rate than the wildtype virus) that trigger a much stronger immune response. Viral RNA can also trigger immune response, but the RNA needs to be processed by an antigen presenting cell such as an infected cell or a phagocyte.

It actually works the same way with certain bacteria. Researchers will frequently inject LPS (lipopolysaccharide) into animals to simulate a bacterial infection, because bacteria have LPS on their surfaces and their are immune systems designed to recognize this ubiquitious bacterial component.

I'm not sure about separate shells, but I do know that many (all?) viruses have several different proteins involved in making the shell, and that changes in which proteins are present will change the antigenic profile of the virus.

A better modified live virus (1)

Dr. Manhattan (29720) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847315)

Recode the DNA or RNA to use the slowest, most "pessimal" coding for the same proteins [nytimes.com] . The virus is externally the same but reproduces orders of magnitude slower, slow enough for the immune system to kill it before it can cause any harm. And the extent of the recoding is such that it's effectively impossible for the virus to revert to pathogenic form.

Re:I wonder... (2, Interesting)

nietsch (112711) | more than 4 years ago | (#29848577)

I am a Biologist, please allow me to answer:
Yes the DNA or RNA has a function: to make more virus. immune reactions work on anything the immune system recognises, and because the immune system is built with protein, it is mostly protein it recognises. Naked DNA or RNA in the bloodstream is quickly mopped up, so you do not need specific immunity.

Vaccination does not trigger an immediate response if you have never seen the antigen before (and if you have, the vaccination is needless and poses a risk). It takes some time to mount an immune response, about as long as 'the flu' lasts. once this response is established, your immune system 'remembers' it. A next exposure to the antigen will see a much quicker response to the antigen, and the second exposure will also reinforce your long term immunity. Read up on immunity if you still don't trust it, this is basically just how it works.

The flu virus evolves a new shell almost every season, exactly because the immune system reacts on its outer envelope. 'They' have no system to switch between different env genes, as you'd need a lot of overhead for that. Having a lot of mutations between each generation and letting basic evolution take its course works much more efficiently.

Bonk bonk on the head (3, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846459)

I explained traditional vaccines like this to my kids: "What they do is get some of bad viruses, we'll call them little monsters. So they clone these monsters (kids learn what cloning is from cartoons) and then bonk them in the head to make them all dizzy. Then they send these dizzy monsters into the village, which is your body. The villagers see the monsters and beat the Cheerios out of them, and then kick them out of the city. They also learn to recognize the monsters. So when the real monsters come, the ones that are not dizzy, the villagers know how to recognize them because they look just like the dizzy ones. That's how they know to find the monsters and kick them out."

Kid: "But daddy, why don't they just put up a Wanted poster?"

Me: "Uh, go ask your mom."
     

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (2, Funny)

CheeseTroll (696413) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846493)

Are you a Nintendo game designer, by any chance?

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 4 years ago | (#29848735)

Nah, can't be. Bonk [wikipedia.org] wasn't made by Nintendo.

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (2, Interesting)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846591)

Funnny, but what the kid asks uis actually closer to how a vaccine works.

A dizzy monster might recover and go rampaging through the village. The flu vaccine is not a live virrus and as such it is like putting a wanted poster up.

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846651)

Zombie monsters with lobotomies? Hey, stop messin' up my analogies with exceptions and bug reports! I bet you were a boring kid ;-)

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846749)

The flu vaccine can cause the flu. A wanted poster cannot rob a house.

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (1)

pe1rxq (141710) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846895)

No it can't, the flu vaccine contains virusses that are dead.
(Dead really isn't a good way to describe it since a virus isn't alive in the first place)

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (2, Informative)

baKanale (830108) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847163)

Most flu vaccines are inactivated. On the other hand, "live attenuated influenza vaccine" is reduced in virulence but still "alive", and "may cause an infection with complications in people with weakened immune systems or other underlying medical conditions."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_attenuated_influenza_vaccine#Risks [wikipedia.org]

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (2, Informative)

mikael (484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847187)

The nasal spray version of the vaccine does contain live virus, but "attenuated" so that it can only reproduce in the lining of the nose.

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (1)

nietsch (112711) | more than 4 years ago | (#29849609)

The lining of the nose (and the upper airways) is where the flu can only reproduce anyway, so that statement is not very comforting. 'Contains no virus' is much safer than contains attenuated virus.

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (1)

mikael (484) | more than 4 years ago | (#29854139)

FluMist [drugs.com]

Important information about FluMist
FluMist is a "live virus" vaccine. Influenza virus vaccine is also available in an injectable form, which is a "killed virus" vaccine. This medication guide addresses only the nasal spray form of this vaccine.

For at least 21 days after receiving FluMist, avoid close contact with anyone who has a weak immune system caused by disease (such as cancer, HIV, or AIDS), or by certain medicines such as steroids, cancer chemotherapy, or radiation treatment. A person with a weak immune system can become ill if they have close contact with you after you have recently received a an influenza vaccine.

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (1)

TheTyrannyOfForcedRe (1186313) | more than 4 years ago | (#29849259)

I'm dying to hear your explanation of the "birds and the bees..."

Re:Bonk bonk on the head (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29850331)

I'm dying to hear your explanation of the "birds and the bees..."

You'll have to order my book series: "Educational Guides for Dysfunctional Families".

Umbrella? (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846525)

Is this how the Umbrella corp got their start in creating a Zombie virus?

Hopefully these researchers have created a decent underground lab, with flooded rooms, insane computers, dogs ready to be zombiefied, lots of corridors, exotic weapons with ammo dropped in numerous random places, and other useful stuff. If I was building a virus lab, I'd definately need to have all this available in case someone needs to sneak in and blow it up.

Re:Umbrella? (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846647)

You know for an ultra modern state of the art lab they sure have some crapy underground infrastructure and why do these places always still use steam heating?? Which brings up another question. Why do space craft in movies use steam heat?

Re:Umbrella? (1)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846891)

because steam looks cool on camera.

Re:Umbrella? (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846903)

Why do space craft in movies use steam heat?

Space craft have heat exchangers on there fission reactor coolant pipes. It's a cheap way to heat your ship and provides a good home for alien parasites.

Re:Umbrella? (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847433)

Yes but that just creates a corrosion problem waiting to happen and in space to boot. Not to mention a major safety hazard, a pressurized steam one not nuclear (insert evil music here). Besides electric heat would be much cheaper over the life of the vessel.

Re:Umbrella? (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29848789)

Yes but that just creates a corrosion problem waiting to happen. Not to mention a major safety hazard, a pressurized steam

Just don't have your space craft built by the lowest bidder and make sure they use only non corrosive piping.
With the proper safety valves and controls steam is perfectly safe. Why waste power making heat when you could be using it for your ion drive or shielding...

Now if you wanna make a war ship on the other hand yes you might wanna think about it more carefully...

Re:Umbrella? (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846913)

Al least they have moved away from steering by using a wheel from a boat. Newer ones use two levers that you have to operate in opposition (lift one up while you pull the other down).
Using steam doesn't seem so dumb after looking at their steering options, but I kinda wonder how hard it is to shovel coal into the boilers while under zero G's.

Re:Umbrella? (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 4 years ago | (#29848921)

I kinda wonder how hard it is to shovel coal into the boilers while under zero G's.

My race doesn't use coal to power our ships... we use the souls of human children and they are very easy to handle or so merlock the soul smith tells me...

no flu vaccines for me thanks (-1, Offtopic)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846743)

i heard of too bad bad side effects including fatal side effects, i will rely on my immune system.

Re:no flu vaccines for me thanks (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29846965)

You're more likely to die from Influenza virus (or complications from an infection) than from the Influenza vaccine.

Of course facts don't matter when fear mongering trumps reason.

Re:no flu vaccines for me thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29847617)

How is this a troll? Conspiracy hypothesis freaks must have the mod points today.

Re:no flu vaccines for me thanks (2, Informative)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847151)

Serious side effects from vaccination are on the order of one in a million or less, serious disease from the flu is on the order of one in thousand or more.

Re:no flu vaccines for me thanks (2, Insightful)

ChromeAeonium (1026952) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847719)

I could have modded you down, but since there is no -1 Wrong moderation, I decided to correct you instead. When you use a vaccine, you ARE relying on your immune system. All vaccines do is help create an immune response in a manner usually safer than the disease. I say usually because vaccines aren't supposed to eliminate all the risk. That's impossible; all reward has risk. Would you rather have, for example, a 1/50,000 chance of getting hurt by the flu, or a 1/1,000,000 chance of getting hurt by the vaccine. Those aren't actual statistics, but you get the idea. It is true that people are hurt by vaccines, and yes, they sometimes die from the vaccine, but the point is that they're safer than not getting vaccinated. I don't know why there has to be this false dichotomy that because a vaccine is not absolutely perfect that it is dangerous. I mean, it would be like claiming that you shouldn't wear a seat belt or use airbags because people have been hurt by those things. They save many, many more than they harm. It is not about eliminating danger, it is about mitigating the danger to lower levels. It is just asinine and illogical to say that because vaccines aren't fairy dust panaceas you shouldn't get one. I hope people realize that the vast, vast majority of this anti-vaccine nonsense has its cultural roots [wikipedia.org] in anti-scientific fear-mongers (lookin' at you, Wakefield), not actual fact.

Re:no flu vaccines for me thanks (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 4 years ago | (#29848335)

i am aware of how vaccines work

i just dont trust this latest batch that has and is being rushed to market over the H1N1, i will take my chances without this vaccine.

Re:no flu vaccines for me thanks (1)

CTachyon (412849) | more than 4 years ago | (#29859793)

i am aware of how vaccines work

i just dont trust this latest batch that has and is being rushed to market over the H1N1, i will take my chances without this vaccine.

This "latest batch" has been almost six months in the making, which is roughly the same length of time it takes to develop the seasonal flu vaccine each year. Flu already requires a new vaccine every year: different strains require different vaccines, and every new year brings one or more new strains of flu, and this year's swine flu vaccine is no different from the vaccine for any other strain of flu in that respect. When a new strain arises, scientists don't have to throw away all their knowledge about making flu vaccines or treat it as a from-scratch research project. The biggest difference this year is that scientists found out about the novel H1N1 after they'd already started work on this year's seasonal flu vaccine, so it was too late to include it. This is why they're running behind on vaccine production.

Some background is required to appreciate this. Flu mutates fairly rapidly, since it's a single-stranded RNA virus. A "strain" is actually hundreds of individual mutant lines inheriting from a common ancestor but with significant differences between them. From the perspective of creating a flu vaccine, two proteins are critically important: hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, "H" and "N" respectively in "H1N1". Both of these proteins are directly involved in the cell-to-cell spreading of the virus — and thus highly conserved across mutant lines, and even across strains — and both of these proteins can be recognized by the immune system on the exterior of the virus. If you create a vaccine for one mutant line, then that single vaccine will be effective against most of the other mutants lines within the same strain. That said, there are other important proteins besides "H" and "N", and these differences mean that a vaccine for one H1N1 strain (e.g. A/Brisbane/59/2007, a target of this year's seasonal flu vaccine) will offer only a tiny amount of protection against any other H1N1 strain (e.g. the new swine flu strain).

Immunity to this year's strain will be widespread by next year, either by vaccination or by infection. This is unfortunate because some other strain (often one that already exists today) will fill the empty niche and become the "new" strain next year, and a new vaccine will be needed to protect against the "new" strain. Happily, scientists can look at this year's epidemiological data and make some pretty good guesses about which strains are likely to infect lots of people. They pick the three to five strains that look positioned to cause the most harm, and they start work on a combined vaccine against all of them for next year's flu season. This happens as the current flu season winds down in late Winter/early Spring, about six to nine months before the vaccine will be needed for the next flu season, because it will take that long to grow the flu viruses in chicken eggs, to kill the viruses, and to make doses of vaccine out of the viral remains.

Once next year's strains have been identified, all the hard research work has already been accomplished: growing the virus in chicken eggs rarely changes from year to year, killing the virus is easy and repeatable (and easy to verify before making a vaccine out of it), and making doses from the dead virus is usually trivial. When complications arise, it's almost always in the viral growth stage. If the strain is strongly bird-associated (e.g. the H5N1 "bird flu" strain from a few years back), the flu strain might kill chicken eggs too quickly. (Thankfully, viruses with this problem rarely spread well from human to human, since the virus must make a trade-off between infecting birds well or infecting humans well.) Alternately, the virus might not grow very well at all in chicken eggs, which is a pretty rare event since chicken eggs have very few defenses and even human-adapted strains usually retain the ability to infect chicken cells under such ideal conditions.

So long as the strain used in the vaccine is a good match for the strain actually infecting people in the real world, the vaccine's effectiveness doesn't vary by much. And the potential for unexpected side-effects or other safety concerns is practically zero, since the process used to make the vaccine is identical from year to year and the only difference is the virus itself. From a safety and effectiveness perspective, there's nothing at all to distinguish the swine flu vaccine from any other flu vaccine: if anything, the swine flu vaccine is slightly better, since there was no guesswork on which strain to use.

Re:no flu vaccines for me thanks (1)

nietsch (112711) | more than 4 years ago | (#29849395)

Sure, after all it is just a different flu. However, the statistics who dies from it suggest that a strong immune system is an extra risk, the deaths are not in the age categories you would expect with a normal flu.
But your decision seems to be based on scary stories, and fear is not a good advisor in general and neither is stubbornness. Your call, Darwin may take care of you...

Re:no flu vaccines for me thanks (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 4 years ago | (#29850195)

its too late for a darwin award, i have been a father of two boys. i left the choice up to their mom to manage their vaccines. besides they only ask me for money

Re:no flu vaccines for me thanks (1)

rcolbert (1631881) | more than 4 years ago | (#29860897)

i have been a father of two boys.

When did you ever stop being?

Virus-like Vaccine (1)

Erelas (1077365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29846777)

C'mon folks, did nobody watch I Am Legend?

Re:Virus-like Vaccine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29846909)

It's called predictive programming.

No? (1)

nietsch (112711) | more than 4 years ago | (#29849331)

No, i did not watch this 'I am legend' thing you talk about. What is it, a painting or something?

Good idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29846831)

That's so.... obvious! Why dont they put inside of those shells some "good" rna? you know, a rna to make us stronger and smarter. Then the apocalipse can happen, finally!

Sure! (1)

nietsch (112711) | more than 4 years ago | (#29849511)

You will off course have those 'good rna' sequences ready and are willing to be the first test subject? Why not?
BTW: those empty particle may very well not contain the actual proteins needed for infection, as only the H&N proteins offer enough protection. So any rna inside the particle will never be injected.

EC101 (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847157)

http://www.hss.caltech.edu/~camerer/Ec101/JudgementUncertainty.pdf [caltech.edu]

Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185, 1124-1130

CC.

Re:EC101 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29847255)

Shit, wrong tab.

Patents? (1)

etenil (1645213) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847451)

How many patents on this thing again? I guess the developping countries arent' gonna get it before a while without paying these lab's taxes.

production in insect cells has advantages (2, Interesting)

airuck (300354) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847533)

One great advantage in using insect cell lines is that they do not require serum to grow, which is both costly and open to the risk of transmitting zoonotic pathogens. Insect cells can also be more robust than mammalian cells in large scale fermentation conditions.

Nice to see this here (1)

jeffasselin (566598) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847565)

I've done some IT contracting work for Medicago for a few years, they're a local enterprise, and I know the people behind the technology and I know their installations quite well. It's quite impressive, and I know they're now set on human testing after years of work and animal tests. Glad to see them getting some attention. I think this kind of technology is the future of medicine production.

Such a shame (-1, Offtopic)

TrumpetPower! (190615) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847857)

While I’m sure this is great news for all those Commie pinko atheist libruls out there, the Truth of the matter is that vaccines are the leading cause of Down’s Syndrome, abortions, homosexuality, and alien anal probes, so you can take that needle and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

</sarcasm mode="depressingly-semi-serious">

Cheers,

b&

Where's the WCPGW? tag? (1)

mujadaddy (1238164) | more than 4 years ago | (#29847881)

Where's the "What could possibly go wrong?" tag?

I for one welcome.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29850701)

...our zombie overlords. It has begun!

Release under the GPL (1)

ldj (726828) | more than 4 years ago | (#29851419)

If they release the particles under the GPL, would that square their viral properties or just double them?

DNA and RNA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29852665)

> ... but that contain no influenza RNA genetic material.
> ... more quickly than current methods, using just the DNA of the virus.

Most viruses contain no DNA at all, just RNA...and according to your own story, neither process uses any "real" viral material at all...just a synthesized protein coat!

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>