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Gene Therapy May Protect Against Flu

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the shields-up dept.

Biotech 72

sciencehabit writes "In 2009, a global collaboration of scientists, public health agencies, and companies raced to make a vaccine against a pandemic influenza virus, but most of it wasn't ready until the pandemic had peaked. Now, researchers have come up with an alternative, faster strategy for when a pandemic influenza virus surfaces: Just squirt genes for the protective antibodies into people's noses. The method—which borrows ideas from both gene therapy and vaccination, but is neither—protects mice against a wide range of flu viruses in a new study."

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meh (1, Offtopic)

larry bagina (561269) | about a year ago | (#43856679)

let me know when gene therapy lets me shoot bees out of my arms.

Re:meh (1)

davester666 (731373) | about a year ago | (#43857611)

Move next door to a nuclear reactor [hey, land will be CHEAP], and start raising bee's.

It worked for Peter Parker.

How long before this scenario happens? (3, Insightful)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about a year ago | (#43856703)

Some radical environmentalist person on their online dating profile writes "Genetically modified people need not apply."

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (3, Insightful)

gnoshi (314933) | about a year ago | (#43856745)

That's ok, for two reasons:
1. The 'gene modification' disappears over time
2. Who here would want to date someone that boring anyway?

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#43856761)

boring women that can suck and fuck well turn me on

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43857517)

and they're ok with dating a shallow man

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#43872473)

the human race would have ended long ago were it not so

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year ago | (#43860919)

Boring? Extremists aren't usually "boring." Annoying, dangerous, holier-than-thou, scary, offensive, disgusting, disturbing, sometimes. Talking to someone who is deeply opposed to biological research, even the biological research that I do, is likely to be less boring than someone who has strong opinions about Kim Kardashian in the latest Tyler Perry movie, but no opinion on genetic modification.

That said, I doubt such a relationship would last long, but "boring" probably wouldn't describe it.

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43857219)

Too late I bet. Some hippy bitch already won't fuck you if you eat anything non-organic. Whatever... This is stupid. I would rather get the flu than let them give me cancer. Certainly we all realise this is just cancer in a shot right? I mean, the flu shot is, so why wouldn't this be?

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43857253)

What have you been reading? Flu shots can't cause cancer. They are not live viruses, they do not integrate into the host genome. These don't either. Gene therapy using viruses that integrate their genes into the hosts genome have the potential to cause cancer, if they integrate willy nilly, but these viruses can't do that. Stop reading hippy magazines, and read a biology book.

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (2)

Ultracrepidarian (576183) | about a year ago | (#43857469)

Back off. Let natural selection do it's job.

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (1)

MrL0G1C (867445) | about a year ago | (#43858991)

Except, if we all get modified the same ways with regards to diseases etc, 'natural selection' will then wipe us all out at the same time.

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43858081)

Too late I bet. Some hippy bitch already won't fuck you if you eat anything non-organic. Whatever... This is stupid. I would rather get the flu than let them give me cancer. Certainly we all realise this is just cancer in a shot right? I mean, the flu shot is, so why wouldn't this be?

So the choice is between Hippie bitches who won't f**k me if I don't eat organic, smoke pot and hug trees and conservative bitches who won't f**k me if I complain about the half gallon of hairspray they use every morning, the fact that they dress like they get their fashion tips from a 1950s movie and carry a loaded PPK with a hair trigger in their purse just in case somebody might walk onto their lawn and threaten their castle? That's one helluva choice, men in the USA must know exactly what it feels like to be a male spider...

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43859209)

male spider... LOL. Try getting married sometime. Then you will feel male spider. Fucking black widows baby...

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43859417)

Sounds like you guys need to stop dating dumb, greedy bitches.

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (1)

Paradise Pete (33184) | about a year ago | (#43858219)

Some hippy bitch already won't fuck you if you eat anything non-organic. Whatever...

The vast majority of the people in the world don't want to fuck you. Get over it.

Re:How long before this scenario happens? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year ago | (#43857613)

What's wrong with that? There are no laws against it. We pure humans have to defend ourselves against the creeping normalization of genetically modified organisms. Don't eat them, don't deal with them, and especially don't date them.

It is just a matter of time before (3, Interesting)

houbou (1097327) | about a year ago | (#43856747)

nano-tech and germ warfare become sophisticated enough that we will have millions of little nanobots our bloodstream which will provide the coverage necessary to deal with anything which our immune system isn't able to. This of course will be designed in such a way that you will have to 're-stock' your nanobots at certain determined intervals, because Big Pharma isn't going to design any permanent solution, or at least, will not be marketing any permanent solution at first, for we all know that the money is made through the sales of medications and prescriptions, not in curing any diseases.

Re:It is just a matter of time before (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year ago | (#43856847)

If you don't exercise your immune system, you lose it.

Re:It is just a matter of time before (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43856941)

If we get to the point where we have nano machines in our blood stream attacking negatively impacting bacteria and virus' - what makes you think they couldn't be programmed to also attack our immune system in a way that mimics common aggressors to keep it on it's toes?

Re:It is just a matter of time before (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year ago | (#43858129)

If we get to the point where we have nano machines in our blood stream attacking negatively impacting bacteria and virus' - what makes you think they couldn't be programmed to also attack our immune system in a way that mimics common aggressors to keep it on it's toes?

If they can be programmed, what makes you think I won't assemble them into a neural network, gain sentience by piggybacking on the neural structures of all mankind and wind up ruling Humanity from within?

That's what's so cute about humans. They think so small.

Re:It is just a matter of time before (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43857175)

If you don't exercise your immune system, you lose it.

Actually not really, if you don't exercise your immune system it will start finding things to fight, commonly thought as to why allergy rates are much higher in developed world compared to developing, our kids have bored immune systems*...

*oversimplification of course.....

Re:It is just a matter of time before (4, Interesting)

TheLink (130905) | about a year ago | (#43857951)

A worm or two might help: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/11/15/parasitic-worm-eggs-ease-intestinal-ills-by-changing-gut-macrobiota/ [scientificamerican.com]
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/44092.php [medicalnewstoday.com]

But stool transplants might still be preferable...

Re:It is just a matter of time before (2)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about a year ago | (#43859021)

But stool transplants might still be preferable...

I smell an upcoming /. poll

Re:It is just a matter of time before (1)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year ago | (#43863345)

But stool transplants might still be preferable...

I smell an upcoming /. poll

Something tells me, between stool samples and worm eggs, that it'll smell pretty bad.

Re:It is just a matter of time before (1)

Ambassador Kosh (18352) | about a year ago | (#43857097)

Other countries though are working on more persistent systems. The holy grail is to encode how to make the nanobot into your DNA. That way the fix would be permanent and inheritable. We are still a good ways off on that but making progress.

The USA is going to have to adopt better medical standards or they will be left far behind as Canada, Europe and other socialized medical care countries largely get rid of their medical costs.

Ideal would be if you could make the system sexually transmitted also. It would very quickly reach people provide the nanobots. It would also be completely non-viable to prevent anyone in the USA from having sex with anyone that had gained these upgrades so everyone would have it in time.

Re: It is just a matter of time before (1)

Mitsoid (837831) | about a year ago | (#43857387)

But if it was sexually transmitted to an unknowing new host... That new host at some point might be tested by pirate gene police... Creating a legal threat to this new host that they now belong to umbrella corp... Aka big Mons...tana... Yes... I'm talking about the State........ Not some company with more lawyers and secret police then researchers...

Re: It is just a matter of time before (1)

TheLink (130905) | about a year ago | (#43857959)

You may also need to get a license to have kids - no unauthorized reproduction and all that ;).

Re: It is just a matter of time before (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43858457)

I tend to overuse the ... myself, but... once per paragraph is enough.

Re:It is just a matter of time before (1)

houbou (1097327) | about a year ago | (#43858877)

well, a human is just a biological machine, so who knows.. maybe we just need to do this to 'fix' ourselves! :)

Re:It is just a matter of time before (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | about a year ago | (#43859609)

> This of course will be designed in such a way that you will have to 're-stock' your nanobots at certain determined intervals, because Big Pharma isn't going to design any permanent solution...

What a conspiracy nut nonsense!
I mean, it's like we always needed to buy an up to date antivirus to avoid our PCs being attacked... oh wait...

Re:It is just a matter of time before (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year ago | (#43861073)

because Big Pharma isn't going to design any permanent solution, or at least, will not be marketing any permanent solution at first, for we all know that the money is made through the sales of medications and prescriptions, not in curing any diseases.

Fortunately, Big Pharma has never been essential to making cures to diseases. Government grants to basic biology is the driving force there.

Also, this is remarkably cynical about technology which hasn't even been invented yet. The outcomes of technology are nearly impossible to predict even if you put more thought into it than "pharmecutical companies are greedy."

I disagree (1)

Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) | about a year ago | (#43863229)

nano-tech and germ warfare become sophisticated enough that we will have millions of little nanobots our bloodstream which will provide the coverage necessary to deal with anything which our immune system isn't able to. This of course will be designed in such a way that you will have to 're-stock' your nanobots at certain determined intervals, because Big Pharma isn't going to design any permanent solution, or at least, will not be marketing any permanent solution at first, for we all know that the money is made through the sales of medications and prescriptions, not in curing any diseases.

This the kind of paranoia that is along the lines of "Cars that could get 100 miles to a gallon of water were available in the 1970s, but the Big Three bought them up and destroyed the information". I will tell you why I don't agree with you. It seems to me as a general observer that drug patents are not subject to the kind of "minor change = new patent" nonsense that is destroying the software industry. If this kind of thing was common, believe me, drugs like minoxidil would be covered under some kind of new patent instead of being in the public domain. Saying that Big Pharma doesn't want to cure diseases sounds plausible, but patents release the information on how drugs are created. So suppose Big Pharma A finds a cure for, say, pancreatic cancer, but they also find a drug that doesn't cure it, but keeps people alive, perhaps related to the cure. The other drug companies will see their patent on the treatment and one may figure out the cure and patent that, putting a complete end to the treatment drug. No, there's too much risk in knowing a better medicine and trying to keep it secret. If company A figured it out, it's only a matter of time before company B does too. If Big Pharma A has a great medicine, they can get established on selling it so that even when generics come out, they may still be able to retain sales (at a cheaper price of course) by having their name associated with the original medicine. Besides, it's great for business to say "We're the guys who cured X for the world, so now try our new medicine to cure Y".

Good. For 3 months. (5, Interesting)

gnoshi (314933) | about a year ago | (#43856755)

It isn't quite as simple as 'squirt genes for the protective antibodies into people's noses'.
It is 'squirt a non-replicating virus into people's noses, so the virus can stick the DNA for the protective antibodies into cells'.

It's a pretty good trick. The cells will start producing the antibody, but they will not pass this property on to subsequent cell generations. That means there is a pretty limited lifespan.
That can make it really good for pandemics, especially if it is fast to generate. However, for longer-term protection you really still need vaccines.

Re:Good. For 3 months. (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year ago | (#43856851)

unless its "Sorry, the genes we squirted in your nose were defective, you now have a malignant tumour"

Re:Good. For 3 months. (4, Informative)

gnoshi (314933) | about a year ago | (#43856933)

That's mostly a risk if you're using a virus vector which integrates the DNA into an existing chromosome (which this one doesn't, I believe), AND you can't control the site of insertion. That is, unless the specific gene (in this case, the antibody gene) itself can cause a persistent change in the function of the cell - maybe causing the body to produce a compound which itself promotes cell growth or the like. (That's well outside my area of expertise.)

The great thing about inserting into an existing chromosome (which this does not do) is that then cell replication *does* propagate the gene. The downside is the risk of incorrect insertion which can lead to cancer, among other things.

Re:Good. For 3 months. (2)

GenieGenieGenie (942725) | about a year ago | (#43856957)

rAAVs don't integrate.

Re:Good. For 3 months. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43857761)

... as often as non-episomal virii.

Re:Good. For 3 months. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43861455)

The cells will start producing the antibody, but they will not pass this property on to subsequent cell generations. That means there is a pretty limited lifespan.

That makes it perfect for the company developing it. Long term protection means less profits.

This is not "squirt genes" (5, Informative)

GenieGenieGenie (942725) | about a year ago | (#43856771)

This is "squirt AAV" or Adeno-Associated Virus, or better - rAAV for recombinant. The virus does what viruses do and delivers the genes encoding your gene of interest, in this case a gene encoding a broad antibody that is effective against many different flu virus strains.

This is a big difference, especially if you're trying to sell it out to Average Joe and his mother in law. "Here, let me just squirt this genetically engineered virus into your nose for a second...".

One more thing I don't get - why are they reporting a 2011 paper today?

Re:This is not "squirt genes" (2)

EmperorArthur (1113223) | about a year ago | (#43856865)

One more thing I don't get - why are they reporting a 2011 paper today?

Ehh, It's Slashdot.

Re:This is not "squirt genes" (1)

GenieGenieGenie (942725) | about a year ago | (#43856953)

TFA is on Science today.

Re:This is not "squirt genes" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43856927)

Hold on, we are already able to program what some virus 'loads' into our bodies?

Re:This is not "squirt genes" (2)

gnoshi (314933) | about a year ago | (#43856983)

Yes, although size of the gene to be inserted, the type of cell you want to infect, and other such factors can make it more difficult.

Optogenetics is a pretty cool example of that (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optogenetics). You infect brain cells with a rabies-type virus which is loaded with DNA for photoreceptors, and the neurons develop photoreceptors. You can then stimulate them using light (which means you don't get the electrical spread effects you do with electrode-based stimulation).

It is awesome.

Re:This is not "squirt genes" (1)

OhANameWhatName (2688401) | about a year ago | (#43857385)

You infect brain cells with a rabies-type virus which is loaded with DNA

Wow! That's .. awesome?!?

Gene Therapy Protects Against Flu, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43856975)

May cause terminal cancer.

Re:Gene Therapy Protects Against Flu, but... (1, Offtopic)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year ago | (#43857283)

Or "must haz brainz" syndrome.

I Can see it now (0)

Crypto Gnome (651401) | about a year ago | (#43857003)

Any day soon we'll have $RANDOM TERRORISTS running around with little bottles of nasal-spray, each encoded to INFECT $ONE SINGLE PERSON with an insanely specific , desperately infectious, 100% fatal disease.

Re:I Can see it now (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year ago | (#43857301)

...in a world where grey goo and mutant GMO crops fight over the last remains of human civilization.

I got dibs on the movie rights!

Re:I Can see it now (1)

OhANameWhatName (2688401) | about a year ago | (#43857371)

world where grey goo and mutant GMO crops fight over the last remains of human civilization

The goo is black [youtube.com]

reality intervenes (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43857015)

This is cool and probably an idea that's occurred to lots of people that work with viral vectors etc., but

(1) making and isolating monoclonal antibodies
(2) making specific (=target one thing) antibodies that work the way you want them to, including a demonstrated lack of toxicity in most people
(3) making new ones every time a new sort of killer flu shows up
(4) distributing the vaccine quickly
(5) a crap*ton of other stuff because biology is annoying

are some reasons this isn't done already. It's also impossible under, e.g., the timescale of testing required by the FDA right now.

Re:reality intervenes (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43857749)

6) Reason we dont have good Abs to flu is that flu is good at mimicking endogenous epitopes for its important structures. (translated: An effective general antibody will probably lead the body to attack the human's own cells as well.)

2009 flu vaccines were contaminated (1)

OhANameWhatName (2688401) | about a year ago | (#43857017)

companies raced to make a vaccine against a pandemic influenza virus, but most of the uncontaminated [bloomberg.com] vaccine wasn't ready until the pandemic had peaked

Fixed that for you.

Re:2009 flu vaccines were contaminated (1)

statusbar (314703) | about a year ago | (#43857157)

Wow! Thank you for that fix!

That event could have been a whole lot worse!

Yeah, but what protects against the zombies? (1)

kawabago (551139) | about a year ago | (#43857365)

Cough, cough, ca, ca, ba brains brains brains...

Re:Yeah, but what protects against the zombies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43861821)

Why is it that every time there is an article about protecting against viruses it sounds like the beginning of I Am Legend?

Might be effective (1)

EzInKy (115248) | about a year ago | (#43857435)

For a while at least it might protect people but, being a living organism with a mandate to survive, the virus will evolve a way around genetic therapy too. Why not meet nature halfway instead? I'll bet it would accept survival if humans would accept a day or two of the sniffles.

Re:Might be effective (1)

gnoshi (314933) | about a year ago | (#43857537)

Because the virus can't actually reproduce itself, it is limited (at best) to evolving using 'genetic shift' where a virus swaps genetic material with another virus in the cell. However, genetic shift is limited to very similar viruses. For example, genetic shift leads to a new flu virus forming where two other flu viruses infect the same cell. In the case of this virus (which as GenieGenieGenie pointed out is an Adeno-Associated Virus) the wild-type isn't actually dangerous to my limited knowledge.

Re:Might be effective (1)

TheLink (130905) | about a year ago | (#43857995)

In which case a possible long term solution is immediate full quarantine on detection or suspicion of infection.

Then the virus would have to evolve to either:
a) stop producing such noticeable symptoms (e.g. the infected won't feel as sick)
or
b) replicate on some other species as a reservoir (but if it stops reproducing effectively in our species, it may completely move to the other species).

Quarantine will work quite well for most infectious diseases. The problem is in many countries people are not discouraged enough from working when they are sick and infectious.

Re:Might be effective (1)

EzInKy (115248) | about a year ago | (#43858473)

So you would force the virus into a MAD situation rather than face a runny nose for a day or two? I agree that policies encouraging people to work when they are sick are stupid, my employer just got took over by one. Still, the virus just wants to live the same as the human. Threatening it with destruction only encourages it to evolve to destruct.

Re:Might be effective (1)

TheLink (130905) | about a year ago | (#43859117)

How would it force the virus to a MAD situation? If the virus kills the host too fast it will not spread as well.

Don't anthropomorphize viruses and use that to predict their behaviour. Viruses don't think the way humans do.

scrambling? (1)

Mr2cents (323101) | about a year ago | (#43857445)

I've always wondered if a simple roman coding of the genetic code (just a mapping of the genetic letters) could make us immune to viruses. After all, they use genetic code to override our instructions, if they are scrambled it won't work any more, i.e. they wont't be able to reproduce..

Re:scrambling? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43857661)

Huh? WHat are you going to recode? Are you going to capture all viruses in the wild in a tiny cage and then reprogram their DNA?

Re:scrambling? (1)

gsiarny (1831256) | about a year ago | (#43857773)

Do you mean remapping each of the codons to a different amino acid? How would this be possible? Once you move beyond the schematic idea of "scrambling the letters," how would this be "simple"? The amount of synthetic biochemistry would be mind-boggling.

Completely changing the orthography of the English language and republishing everything that has ever been printed in English would be a walk in the park compared to this.

Re:scrambling? (1)

Mr2cents (323101) | about a year ago | (#43885943)

Oh, I didn't mean it would be simple, I meant: (simple roman coding), as in the easiest encryption there is.
I was wondering about it, because:
- printing genes is already possible. With advancements in this field, it's not unthinkable that (many years from now) an entire genome could be printed
- the translation to proteins is, as far as I understand, established by "translation molecules" that bind to three particular letters
- if you change the DNA, and change the corresponding "translation molecules", the system would behave identically.
- this new organism would still make the old, non-coded translation molecules, so you'd need to fix that too.

I don't expect this to be easy, maybe it's even impossible, how would I know? I'm no expert. It's just a thought experiment. But if you could do such a thing, would it be good or bad? Viruses that have co-evolved with us would never be able to adapt to that, I think.
Also, could such an embryo be implanted into a mother and survive? I think it would, the cells would be the same, the immune system does not deal directly with DNA.

Anyway, that's just me pondering on some far-out ideas, I hope you don't mind :-).

Re:scrambling? (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#43858537)

If I remember rightly, a character does something similar in Greg Egan's Distress [amazon.co.uk] . I forget the details, but it doesn't end well for him.

Re:scrambling? (1)

Mr2cents (323101) | about a year ago | (#43885959)

Oh, thanks for the link, I'll check that out.

They almost have a universal vaccine (1)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | about a year ago | (#43858803)

They almost have a universal flu vaccine that will last as long as an MMR. I expect the Flu vaccine by the end of this decade to be something you get when you are three and then you're done until booster time.

3 months validity - good for Big Pharma (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43861103)

This is perfect for Big Pharma.

You have to pay every couple weeks to keep you antibodies current.

If not - sorry - you are going to be sick...

Much better than razorblades or print cartridges...

AAV therapy (2)

kilodelta (843627) | about a year ago | (#43863391)

I've known about this for a year or so. Friend of mine is a scientist working on testing cancer treatments using rats and mice.

She told me they introduce the genetic changes mostly through those adeno viruses. But this is pretty cool - you could have complete herd immunity in something you could buy over the counter.

Cell differentiation (1)

manu0601 (2221348) | about a year ago | (#43868731)

I though antibody production was lymphocyte B cell job. TFA suggests that any type of cell will produce antibodies by just pushing the appropriate DNA. Is it that simple? Why do we have differentiated lymphocyte B cell then?
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