Researcher gets $3.86 million grant to develop universal flu vaccine with microneedle patch



Credit: Georgia State University

ATLANTA–Dr. Baozhong Wang, associate professor in Georgia State University’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, has received a five-year, $3.86 million federal grant to develop a universal flu vaccine using a microneedle patch that will protect against any strain of the influenza virus.

The funding from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will be used to create a painless vaccine with self-administration potential that induces strong cross- immune protection against influenza A and B viruses to harness both influenza epidemics and pandemics.

Influenza virus is a major public health risk that can result in hospitalization or even death, particularly for the elderly and very young who are at high risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for everyone six months and older to receive a yearly flu vaccine, but seasonal flu vaccines have major limitations because the influenza virus is constantly changing its genome.

Also, seasonal flu vaccines must be produced every season and only target specific strains of the flu that are estimated by scientists half a year in advance. Last year’s seasonal flu vaccine was only 40 percent effective, according to the CDC.

“A universal influenza vaccine will overcome these challenges,” Wang said. “We’re working to develop a multivalent vaccine that can protect against any strain of the flu. Our vaccine contains double-layered, nanoparticle-sized clusters of proteins from both influenza A and B viruses and a molecular adjuvant, enabling it to induce strong immune protection against both viruses. The vaccine will be administered using dissolvable microneedle patches that can be easily and painlessly applied to the skin.”

“Benefiting from its dry formulation, this universal flu vaccine will be speedily disseminated without a cold-chain transportation requirement and be potentially administered by patients themselves. These qualities are critical in developing areas or a flu pandemic emergence.”

In previous studies, Wang produced a double-layered nanoparticle vaccine delivered via a microneedle patch that protected against influenza A and B viruses, including avian strains with pandemic potential. The vaccine combined nanoparticles of the conservative stalk of the influenza virus, the surface protein of influenza A virus called hemagglutinin and the influenza protein called nucleoprotein to generate double-layered nanoclusters.

This project aims to create novel, double-layered nanoclusters from previous and newly designed influenza proteins (the surface protein of influenza B and nucleoproteins from both influenza A and B), determine a multivalent combination that will induce protection against influenza A and B in mice and condense the optimal nanocluster formation into dissolvable microneedle patches to test in mice and ferrets.


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