Monday, October 21, 2013

Super-vaccine could eliminate need for annual flu jabs within five years after successful trials

A new 'Holy Grail' flu vaccine which gives lifelong protection against all strains of the virus could be available within five years.  Scientists from Britain and Europe are getting ready to start large-scale trials of a universal vaccine after early tests on humans proved successful.

If all goes to plan the new injection would stop the need for annual flu jabs and could save thousands of lives every year.

It could also be effective against highly dangerous forms of the disease, such as Spanish flu, even if they mutate, preventing global pandemics like the one which killed 100million people in 1918.

Despite carrying out human trials on almost 100 patients over many years, this is the first positive news.

Professor John Oxford, British flu expert and a key researcher of the study, said that his team are 'wildly enthusiastic' about the vaccine's prospects.

The programme has recently received a multi-million pound EU grant to fund its research.

At the moment vaccines work by identifying viruses by their 'coats', however as viruses mutate these change, making old vaccines ineffective.

The universal vaccine works by attacking proteins hidden within the virus which are common throughout harmful strains.

If it works, the 'Holy Grail' vaccine would eliminate the need for annual flu jabs and could save thousands of lives every year and prevent global flu pandemics

The news comes at the end of a week which has seen a new strain of bird flu re-emerge in China and after it was reported to have passed between humans in August.

A 32-year-old woman was said to have died after caring for her father who was infected by the H7N9 strain of bird flu.

Reports of human infection began in March this year but have trailed off in the last few months having killed at least 45 people out of 136 cases.

However as poultry stocks swell ahead of Chinese new year a 35-year-old man in the eastern province of Zhejiang has been hospitalised and the World Health Organisation confirms two more people are in hospital with another 88 being sent home.

A nasal flu spray has also been made available for all children aged between two and three years old, and will eventually be extended into a national programme for all under-16s.

If trials of the new flu super-jab are successful it could be available for use by 2018.


Man-made virus could defeat the disease that stole Coleen Rooney's sister: Tests on mice offer new hope for Rett Syndrome

For Beth Johnsson, having a daughter with Rett Syndrome is ‘like losing a child you still have.’ Until she was 18 months old, Hannah was alert, responsive and developing normally.

Yet, Beth, 35, an English teacher, explains: ‘Very suddenly, the beautiful baby we knew slowly began to disappear – she was alive, but we couldn’t get to her.’

Hannah is now six yet has the mental capabilities of an 18-month-old – a reality that is only too stark when she is playing with her brothers Matthew, three, and Noah, who is almost two.

Just like her baby brother, she frequently screams, tries to eat everything within arm’s distance, pulls her hair (and her brother’s) and finds it hard to support her own weight.

Yet now scientists may be close to eliminating the condition. Astonishingly, Rett Syndrome (RS) – which also afflicted Coleen Rooney’s little sister, Rosie, who died aged 14 in January – has been reversed in mice.

One child in 12,000 is born with RS, yet few people have heard of it.  The genetic disorder affects almost exclusively females, causing them to regress neurologically and physically.

Almost all cases are caused by a mutation in the MECP2 gene which prevents nerve cells in the brain from working properly. Currently there is no cure and only the symptoms are treated. Sufferers can live to their  40s but most die before 25.

Beth and her husband Vince, 37, from Sutton in Surrey, first noticed something was wrong when Hannah started to react oddly to people’s emotions.

‘Her normal responses reversed – she would become very distressed when someone laughed,’ says Beth. ‘This was accompanied by screaming which was difficult to bear.’

There was a sudden slowing in her development, and nursery workers noticed she had started to shake occasionally. Beth and Vince took Hannah to the doctor but they were reassured there was nothing wrong with her because she was reaching all her milestones, albeit slowly. But Hannah continued to regress until she started to pull out her hair in handfuls.

‘Even at this point no one could tell me what was wrong with her,’ adds Beth. ‘It was incredibly frustrating.’

Finally, tests revealed the true cause. When the couple were given the news they were strictly told not to search the internet about the condition and to ‘carry on as normal’. Doctors wanted to prevent them frightening themselves.

‘I’m not sure I’d have managed to  get out of bed if I’d known what lay ahead,’ Beth admits.

Since then there has been a steady decline in Hannah’s abilities. She wakes throughout the night for hours at a time and needs a strict routine, otherwise she screams for long periods.

Until recently, neurodevelopmental conditions were thought to be irreversible. Yet there is hope from the Edinburgh University research which in 2007 reversed RS symptoms in mice.

‘That took our breath away,’ says Dr Adrian Bird, who led the study. The mice were infected with a virus that altered the gene and reversed symptoms. ‘Mice are different from humans, but it is a very strong indicator that therapies could be developed in our lifetime,’ says Dr Bird.

For Beth, the research is the light at the end of the tunnel and she will work tirelessly to raise money until there is a therapy for Hannah. She says: ‘I refuse to lose hope.’


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