Scientists have found that people infected with H1N1 swine flu have an extraordinary immune response, producing antibodies that are protective against a variety of flu strains.
The discovery has provided clues to how to make a universal vaccine. Some of the antibodies produced were protective against core elements critical for the virus to function but which don't change as much as other regions of the virus. If these can be replicated in a vaccine it could put an end to the yearly scramble to predict each winter's flu strains and rapidly mass-produce a vaccine.
The researchers analysed antibodies from nine patients who had swine flu in 2009-10. Five were effective against all the seasonal H1N1 strains of flu from the past decade, the devastating "Spanish flu" from 1918 and the potentially lethal H5N1 avian flu.
"The result is something like the Holy Grail for flu-vaccine research. It demonstrates how to make a single vaccine that could potentially provide immunity to all influenza," said Patrick Wilson, of the University of Chicago, an author of the study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.