Finding better ways to fight the flu

Published On: Dec 12 2012 10:15:34 PM EST   Updated On: Dec 13 2012 07:00:00 AM EST

It’s the season for sneezin’, sniffles and sickness. Every year, between five and 20 percent of the US population gets the flu and the infected could be passing it on to you before they even know they’re sick! Researchers are hard at work developing better ways to fight the flu.

It’s a three letter word that might bring to mind a lot of four-letter words.

Chemical engineer at Michigan State University, Tim Whitehead, and a team of researchers from across the United States want to wipe it out.

“And so this is a powerful new approach,” said Whitehead.

Using super computers they’re designing proteins from scratch that are able to find a vulnerable portion of the virus that is in most common strains and latch on.

“That was an Achilles’ heal for the virus,” Whitehead explained.

In the lab, the proteins have been tested in animal cells.

“In the presence of our protein, the cells aren’t infected,” Whitehead said.

Meanwhile, reports that Craig Venter, who helped sequence the human genome wants us all to be able to print flu vaccines. At a recent health conference, Venter said his team is working on digitizing vaccines that could be emailed, downloaded, printed from a special device, and injected.

From printed protection to powerful proteins, soon the flu might not stand a chance.

Whitehead says the flu protein is separate from a vaccine and the idea is to administer it before or after an outbreak. He says we are about five to ten years from human testing. As for printable vaccines, reports, Venter’s team is currently testing a biological printer, but there are a lot of regulatory issues to consider before it ever becomes a reality.


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