Scientists Target DNA to Deliver Effective Avian Flu Vaccine

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Avian flu isn’t in the news as much lately, but it remains a focus of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. David D. Ho, scientific director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, and Rockefeller’s Irene Diamond Professor, along with his colleagues at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, has developed a DNA based vaccine that shows promise for halting most variations of H5N1 flu. The scientists, rather than using dead virus, have built a vaccine that stimulates immunity against Avian flu in mice. The vaccine is easy to produce and modifications can be delivered quickly to halt an epidemic.

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Because H5N1virus mutates quickly, the research team developed a sequence that included all of the conserved parts of the outer protein found in the genes of the virus. They then used electroporation, a process that is just beginning to take hold because it increases the uptake of vaccines in the body. The process involves delivering a high-voltage electrical impulse to put small holes in cell membranes in order to get DNA to penetrate. The result of consensus sequence and electroporation produced an incredibly positive immune response in the lab mice.

Dr. Ho says, “It could be that the vaccine in its current form could protect against most of the H5N1 viruses out there.” He also says that if needed, the genetic sequence is easily adapted in just a few days to help fight whatever H5N1virus mutations that might occur.

The vaccine is being developed for human trials as quickly as possible. Rockefeller University Hospital is taking the combination of DNA and electroporation in hopes of developing a vaccine against HIV.

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