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Rachel Presti, MD, PhD and the Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Team collaborate in $3.4 million effort to make a better flu vaccine

The flu vaccine's protection against influenza only lasts a few months. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are studying why immunity elicited by the flu vaccine wanes so rapidly. Their goal is to make a better, longer-lasting flu vaccine. (Getty Images)

The flu vaccine’s protection against influenza only lasts a few months. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are studying why immunity elicited by the flu vaccine wanes so rapidly. Their goal is to make a better, longer-lasting flu vaccine.

Last year, NIAID issued a strategic plan for developing a universal flu vaccine that would eliminate the onerous and expensive annual operation of surveillance of flu strains, designing a vaccine, manufacturing, and distribution to hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices nationwide. But designing a flu vaccine that protects people for years instead of months requires a deeper understanding of how strong and persistent immune responses develop, and why the current flu vaccine fails to deliver such a response.

“What we have now is a vaccine that we take every year, and we’re not sure if it even covers the whole flu season,” said principal investigator Ali Ellebedy, PhD, an assistant professor of pathology and immunology and a researcher with the Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Center for Human Immunology & Immunotherapy Programs. “People are working on a universal flu vaccine that covers all the different strains, but if we don’t also figure out how to make the immune response last longer, it’s not going to do us much good.”

With the aid of a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis will investigate why the flu vaccine elicits such a short-lived immune response, and how to extend its effectiveness. Rachel Presti, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine, and her team at the Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Unit (ID-CRU) will support Dr. Ellebedy with recruitment and management of study volunteers during vaccination and coordination of procedures. The CRU has extensive experience in implementing clinical studies.

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