As memories of the deadly flu strain in China last year are still fresh, an Ohio State University researcher is using a recently awarded $2.2 million grant to develop a new type of flu vaccine that could protect both humans and animals.
Chang-Won Lee, associate professor in Ohio State's Food Animal Health Research Program, received the grant from a USDA-National Institutes of Health joint program that funds medical research using farm animal models. The ultimate goal is to create a universal solution to both human and animal health issues.
Lee's project is different from other flu projects in that it uses both chicken and swine models – in addition to mice – to test flu vaccine options. Lee said the addition of chicken and swine models helps him overcome traditional hurdles when using mice alone.
Swine is a better model to use for several human infectious diseases, he said, because even good results are noted in mice, they can't always be extrapolated to humans.
"The mouse is an animal that is very easy to protect against the flu, but that doesn't mean the vaccine works in humans. If you can show that something works in a large animal, especially swine, which is anatomically, physiologically and immunologically similar to humans, then there is much more of a chance that it will work in humans," he added.
An additional benefit, he notes, is that swine and poultry are typically the most susceptible to carrying and transmitting the flu.
Currently available flu vaccines are effective against only a few strains at a time, and they're not always targeted against the strains that end up circulating during flu season. That's one reason why more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to seasonal flu every year in the U.S., with thousands of deaths.