Long-term studies will track indelible marks of first flu

Immunological imprinting could provide hints to development of better vaccines.

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The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded two major grants to fund the first large-scale, long-term studies of how infants’ first exposures to influenza shape their immune systems. Researchers will follow the children for several years, starting at birth, to decipher how these early imprints affect an individual’s ability to fight off different strains later in life.

The work could also help to explain why a flu vaccine administered in any given year might work well in one person but not in another, and whether a child is better protected if their first encounter is with a wild virus, rather than the weakened forms found in vaccines. It will also feed into efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine that could offer lifelong protection against most seasonal strains.

By: Declan Butler/Nature News

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