On the nose: preventing influenza infection by targeting immune cells in the nose and throat

Researchers identified which immune cells to target in the nose and throat in the hope of developing an intranasal vaccine to protect against seasonal influenza.

Nasal spray

Anyone with a fear of needles could easily see the benefits of an effective vaccine that can be delivered directly in the nose – in addition to avoiding a jab, an effective intranasal vaccine gains access to a key part of the immune system to fight off influenza.

University of Melbourne Dr Linda Wakim, a laboratory head at the Doherty Institute and her team looked at the important factors for generating good intranasal vaccines, and published the findings in Science Immunology.

“When immunised with an intranasal vaccine, the vaccine ends up in the adenoids and tonsils. This is the site where the vaccine immune response is mounted but until now, nobody really knew what happens to the vaccine once it gets there,” explains Dr Wakim.

“We profiled the cells in the area to work out which we should target our vaccine to, and found it wasn’t any of the cells that reside there, but cells called inflammatory dendritic cells that come in as a consequence of inflammation to mount an immune response.” 

Human dendritic cells
Human dendritic cells

Dr Wakim used this information to develop a novel intranasal immunisation strategy that preferentially delivered the vaccine to these dendritic cells, often referred to as the ‘sentinel guards’ of our immune system.

“While we already have data to show that this vaccine can be used to generate protective immunity against the flu, we are optimistic that our base formulation can be adapted to provide protection against other respiratory pathogens,” says Dr Wakim.

The research team immunised mice with their vaccine platform, which incorporated influenza antigens and were able to block the development of viral pneumonia. This work was published in Vaccines.

“This is incredibly encouraging, and we have a provisional patent on the vaccine platform – we are moving it through the pipeline and are hopeful that this vaccine will be able to provide long-term protection against the flu,” says Dr Wakim.

This research was conducted in collaboration with Monash University, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, Tsinghua University, University of Sydney, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

This work is supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council.

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