Flu vaccine uses DNA to provide years-long protection from virus

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University of Washington researchers are developing what's known as a universal flu vaccine -- a DNA vaccine. (KABC)

Every year, flu season arrives and we roll up our sleeves.

But what if there was no annual poking and pain? What if there was a vaccine that lasted for years?

University of Washington researcher Deborah Fuller and her team in the department of microbiology are developing what's known as a universal flu vaccine -- a DNA vaccine.

"This is a new concept in flu vaccines, it's going to be the new wave of vaccines," said Fuller.

Fuller said a DNA vaccine tackles the flu's biggest challenge: mutation.

Scientists have to guess what the flu will look like long before every flu season. That's because the virus's genes are constantly changing - and sometimes scientists guess incorrectly.

"Now and then they get that wrong, and there is a mismatch, like there is a little bit this year, and the vaccine is a little less effective than what it would be if it was a complete match," said Fuller.

Fuller said DNA vaccines adapt to those genetic changes by isolating the components of the flu virus that don't mutate or change.

A gene gun, which releases a painless puff into the skin, injects the DNA directly into the skin cells. The cells actually produce the flu vaccine, and that prompts the body to create antibodies to fight infection.

"Your own skin cells end up producing these antigens and stimulate the immune response," Fuller said.
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