Bird flu breakthrough claim

A leading research organisation is claiming a breakthrough in the fight against the threat of avian influenza.

The Pirbright Institute said it had taken an important step towards finding a vaccine for the condition, which can cause considerable damage to the poultry sector, as well as posing a threat to human health.

Working in collaboration with the University of Oxford and the Jenner Insitute, and using funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBRSC), Pirbright has now published its research in the journal Vaccine.

Research leader Dr Colin Butter said: “Traditional avian flu vaccines are only effective against one particular type of flu but we want to be able to protect birds and, ultimately, people against different subtypes using just one vaccine. This research suggests that in principle a universal vaccine is possible.”

The research took a vaccine, based on the human flu virus, which initiated an immune response in chickens. It also claimed the vaccine could work to cut down on the possible spread of the virus within a flock.

Dr Butter added: “We’ve found that by using proteins that are very similar in all flu viruses and delivering them packaged inside another harmless virus, we can safely vaccinate into eggs while the chick is still developing and then give a booster injection after hatch. This seems to be effective in priming the chicken’s immune systems against a bird flu virus only distantly related to the human virus whose genes we used to make the vaccine.”