What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around – Ted Ross of the University of Georgia is working on a universal vaccine that would provide years of protection against many types of flu. (Illustration by Jackie Baxter Roberts/UGA)

If Ted Ross can pull off his plan to make flu season a thing of the past, he’ll become something of a scientific superhero.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

But if you told 18-year-old Ross that one day he’d be leading the effort to create a universal flu vaccine, he’d probably say, “Assuming I do the math first.”

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Growing up, Ross’ parents instilled in him that an education was the path to a good job and a rewarding career. Grades were important. And he wasn’t getting the grade he wanted in that advanced math class.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

“I made A’s in biology, but not in calculus.” So I decided I was going to be a biologist,” laughs Ross.

He understood very early on what he was good at and stuck to it. Now, some 30 years after earning a bachelor’s degree in zoology (which he followed up with master’s and doctorate degrees), Ross is on the path to scientific history.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

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His journey to receive the largest grant the University of Georgia has ever received began with a puzzle: how to develop a flu vaccine that works against multiple strains of the virus but doesn’t need to be given every year? Ross’ $130 million contract with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is helping him put things in place.

The grant, which could last up to seven years, created sites around the country with three distinct missions: the group designs, develops and evaluates potential vaccines; another makes and tests vaccines; and others are in charge of conducting phase I and phase II clinical trials.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

“Designing a vaccine that works against all strains of influenza now and in the future is a very challenging task.” — Ted Ross, Distinguished Infectious Disease Researcher, Georgia Research Alliance

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These Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers, or CIVICs, bring together 200 scientists from more than 100 universities and research institutes around the world in a coordinated, multidisciplinary effort to develop universal influenza vaccines.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

Ross’ lab is housed in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and is one of the design sites. His team comes from more than a dozen international institutions and UGA’s own immunization center, Department of Infectious Diseases and College of Public Health.

To call the project a massive undertaking would be an understatement. But he’s the one the world desperately needs, and Ross is determined to see it through.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

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“People say, ‘Oh, I had a bit of the flu. “That’s not true,” says Ross, a leading infectious disease researcher at the Georgia Research Alliance. “If you get the flu, you’ll be in bed feeling very sick and nauseous.”

Ross would know. When he got his Ph.D., he had a bout of the flu. He was working in his lab at Vanderbilt when he suddenly felt so sick that he had to go home. The problem was that he walked to work. He drove all the way to the university medical center before realizing he wasn’t going home. He went straight to the emergency room.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

The flu has become so ubiquitous in modern life that people forget how dangerous it can be. Each year in the United States, the virus kills tens of thousands of people, making it a greater cause of death than traffic accidents. Worldwide, this number rises to more than a quarter of a million. Hundreds of thousands more are hospitalized like Ross.

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These hospitalizations result in huge economic losses. The NIH estimates that the flu costs the average community nationwide about $2.47 million a year. That’s billions of dollars in lost productivity due to a virus that could have been prevented with a better vaccine.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

But the ability of the flu virus to constantly evolve and develop new, more virulent strains makes it harder to fight.

It’s also why getting the flu shot every year only reduces your risk of getting the flu in any given year by 40-60%, which could explain why only two out of five people get vaccinated, according to the CDC.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

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“In measles, mumps and rubella, there is actually only one version of the virus; others like polio, there are only a few versions,” says Ross. “Designing a vaccine that works against all strains of influenza now and in the future is a very challenging task.”

His lab will use a complex algorithm to analyze different varieties of a given type of flu to determine common characteristics between different strains. They then create a molecule with these properties that can be incorporated into vaccines. Like a traditional vaccine, the molecule will help the body’s immune system recognize and attack the flu virus, regardless of the strain causing the infection.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

Specifically, UGA researchers will focus on how the new vaccine can better protect particularly vulnerable populations — such as children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems — who are more likely to be hospitalized or die from the virus.

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As fascinating as Ross now finds the flu, he didn’t start his career fighting one of the most common viruses on Earth. “Most of my friends planned to go to medical school and become doctors. If you talk to someone from biology, 90% of them “will go to medical school”.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

Science has fascinated him ever since he watched the moon landings as a child. Coming to college from the University of Arkansas, he took a job as a lab technician working on fetal alcohol syndrome and its effects on brain tissue.

This led to work on the human T-cell leukemia virus, a cousin of HIV, as a graduate student. Ross continued to work on HIV after receiving his doctorate and accepted a position at the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta. But soon another deadly virus caught his attention: the flu.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

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It was the late 1990s and Hong Kong had a flu epidemic that hadn’t been seen in years. The virus killed three out of four people it infected, a rate nearly matching the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed at least 50 million people worldwide and infected one in three. The CDC was overwhelmed and worried that the world was facing another catastrophic pandemic. The organization asked Emory researchers to take the lead in the lab while they worked on public health.

Ross was one such researcher, and over the next decade his lab shifted from primarily focusing on HIV to influenza. “I kind of got the flu through the back door,” he says.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

While Ross was at the University of Pittsburgh, a conversation he had with a graduate student set in motion a series of events that ultimately led to the CIVIC grant.

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“We realized that one of the problems we had with influenza at the time was that we didn’t have a lot of information about the emerging strains that were circulating,” says Ross. Every time there was a new outbreak, scientists flocked to the site, collected samples of the virus and uploaded them to public databases. He flooded the databases with information about these massive outbreaks, but failed to explain the diversity of other flu strains circulating in the rest of the world at the same time.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

So they created COBRA, a computer program that synthesizes different subtypes of a particular pandemic flu strain. He caught the attention of a pharmaceutical company. Could scientists use COBRA for regular seasonal flu? “We said, ‘Of course. If you give us money, we can do it.

The four other researchers working on the CIVIC project are Eva Strauch from the College of Pharmacy and Andreas Handel from the College of Public Health, Ye Shen and Justin Bahl (who has a joint appointment with the Department of Infectious Diseases of the College of Veterinary Medicine). All of Ross’ colleagues and laboratory staff at the Center for Vaccines and Immunology are also central to this process.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

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Mark Tompkins, a virologist, immunologist and professor of infectious diseases, explores how the virus infects people and how vaccines can effectively prevent that from happening. Jarrod Mousa, assistant professor of infectious diseases, studies how antibodies bind to the flu virus and how a vaccine can prevent that. And Karen Norris, GRA Eminent Scholar in Immunology and Translational Biomedicine, is a recognized expert on animal models that test vaccine candidates, a key step needed to move vaccines into clinical trials.

“There are certainly programs where you have a researcher in the silo who is doing their job and can have a very productive career,” Tompkins says. “But if you look at groups that have regular afternoon teas where they meet and talk, those interactions can synergize into really unexpected new ideas as well as really powerful programs of collaboration and synergy. And it increases the search trajectory.

What Strain Of Flu Is Going Around

And all researchers are quick to nominate their lab team—undergraduates, graduate students,

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